The terms “plant” and “factory” are evolving into more than what they once meant. The image of a traditional manufacturing setting – with independently controlled systems, restricted and prearranged resources, isolated information and no interconnection – is no longer the standard. Manufacturers can’t view the digitization of products and processes as strictly an option anymore; it’s a must, if they wish to align with Industry 4.0, maintain their business and continue to thrive in a competitive landscape. With only 10 percent of global manufacturing companies currently succeeding as “digital champions,” two-thirds of these companies have barely started, or not even begun, their journeys to digital. A report from Deloitte and the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation states that implementing smart technologies has enabled factories to realize gains up to 12 percent, and with such an improvement on the horizon, why wouldn’t manufacturers want to see this come to fruition? The only way to achieve this outcome is to assume the identity of a smart factory, implementing IoT and several key elements that enable this new manufacturing ecosystem.
AI & Machine Learning
While the general concept of artificial intelligence (AI) might be old news, its applications in the smart factory are relatively new. AI-equipped robots allow perception-based decision-making, which isn’t typically possible with robots’ rule-based algorithms. Likewise, predictive maintenance of machinery and equipment is another instance where AI and machine learning are making a significant impact, with the ability to intuitively detect potential breakdowns before they occur, as well as determine operating conditions and overall performance – reducing or eliminating the need for intervention from a human operator.
While industrial robots have been present in factories for a long time, in recent years, they are becoming increasingly more intelligent. By connecting to sensor networks on the manufacturing shop floor, robots with AI technologies receive data from the sensors and subsequently change their actions in alignment with the data analysis, in real-time. In addition to industrial robots, collaborative robots—called cobots—are a new type of robot that complement human operators, working alongside them to observe their actions on the assembly line, learn the task at hand and then autonomously begin to perform the action with essentially the same expertise and precision. With the value of the industrial robot market projected to reach $73 billion by 2023, robotics are making a monumental impact in the manufacturing ecosystem.
Augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies are often used in product design, process manufacturing training, assembly and safety, as well as in simulations and tests for critical factory assets. One example of an AR-based system used in the smart factory is Airbus’ Supply Augmented Reality Tool (SART), which works by using a table-based interface to place a digital “as designed” mock-up over the “as-built” reality, allowing the maintenance team to identify broken parts of fuselages that require repair or replacement. Industrial maintenance is becoming one of the most prevalent places for AR/VR applications.
By processing data at or near the source of generation, edge computing is becoming more common in the smart factory, and its results demonstrate why. Edge computing can help manufacturers increase data processing efficiency, as well as decrease internet bandwidth usage, reduce costs and improve security – through analyzing data at its origin, the “edge,” as opposed to a centralized data center.
The key pieces in the smart manufacturing ecosystem revolve around data – whether that’s generating data, accepting data or both. With the Internet of Things (IoT) as the cornerstone of a successful smart factory, all of the enablers mentioned earlier work together, interacting and connecting to create a fully functioning factory that delivers efficiency and productivity with every device, machine and process. Dynamic Computer Corporation has the capabilities to ensure your data and devices are protected throughout their entire lifecycle, ensuring safety in your factory and security in your network with proactive management and monitoring. Embracing Industry 4.0 and IoT is at the forefront of Dynamic’s field of vision. Whether it’s AI-equipped robots, AR/VR technologies or data management, Dynamic provides assistance with IoT product development and delivers the right technology to meet your specs, yielding higher plant-floor efficiency and success in your smart factory.
Tami Schultz is the Vice President of Business Development at Dynamic Computer Corporation, where she leads the sales and account management functions with her expertise in developing and executing strategy. As a service outsourcing veteran, Tami has a proven track record in leading complex national and global service programs that leverage technology to enable business objectives while growing market share. She is also a member of Michigan Women in Technology and the Supply Chain Leaders in Action – Women in Action Committee.