Building a Path to Smart Factory Value

Building a Path to Smart Factory Value

It’s estimated that the smart factory market will be worth $67 billion by 2020, growing at an annual rate of six percent over the next five years. And with its abundant applications in industries like automotive and transportation, mining, electronics, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, and oil and gas, it’s set to become an economic powerhouse.

But where are the biggest growth areas within the smart factory itself? Which countries and industries are leading the charge? And is there a set of best practices manufacturers can follow when developing their own smart factory plan?

There are some excellent examples of large manufacturers who are already leading with smart factory initiatives—General Dynamics, Honeywell, Mitsubishi Electric, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, GE, and Bosch—as well as smaller companies like UK-based Gripple and Tap Biosytems.

Each have implemented their smart factories in different ways to reach a variety of goals.

In fact, if you ask manufacturing leaders what a smart factory means to them, you’re likely to get a different answer from each. Responses will vary depending on industry, role, and geographic location, although there will be core common values and objectives shared across the board.

For some, smart factories are about sustainability, next-generation materials, and zero-waste production.

For others it might mean improved simulation and modeling, the merging of digital and physical worlds, or the integration of manufacturing and engineering processes.

Still others will envision agile facilities and systems that can be reconfigured based on market demand, while some will talk about optimizing the entire value chain, streamlining the flow of materials, and dabbling in value-added services and Big Data.

Many will include all of the above in their smart factory vision.

Automation of the factory floor, robotics, M2M, and remote operations are all components of the smart factory accelerated by the rise of the Internet of Things and the networking of sensors, motors, switches, and other sundry gadgets.

And right at the center of all this technology is an intrinsically human story. A changing workforce, job loss, and job creation. The smart factory requires a new type of worker, highly skilled, creative, well-educated, and IT literate – a workforce that focusses less on repetitive manual tasks and more on product design, optimization, and the monitoring and controlling of processes.

Across the globe, different countries have differing definitions of the smart factory and smart manufacturing. Sustainable manufacturing is a goal shared by all. The United States is focused on simulation and modelling tools for design, advanced robotics and intelligent manufacturing systems, strategic standards development, and responsive, distributed design and production systems.

Germany’s High Tech Strategy 2020 addresses energy and resource-efficient manufacturing, advanced automation, robotics and the human-machine interface. Other goals include the development of flexible production networks and systems for customized production. Industry 4.0 is focused on embedded systems, seamless digital networks, decentralized control of production, virtual planning of products, and production and remote maintenance.

Asia-Pacific is a leader in smart factories—due essentially to the large number of manufacturing industries in the region—and is expected to continue its growth between 2015 and 2020.

Japan’s innovation program focuses on new production technologies for an aging workforce, energy conservation, smart manufacturing and visualization technologies, and integration of IT systems and analytics.

Korea is focusing on green tech, the smart grid, cloud computing, and value-added services.

China is an interesting study. Like other nations, it is concerned with resource-efficient and eco-friendly manufacturing, new-generation IT, and digital and intelligent design and manufacturing. But its impending demographic crisis—the country has nearly 200 million people above 60 years of age—makes advanced automation of the factory floor a high priority.

However, the transition to a truly smart factory, one that includes rapidly developing IoT technologies, is not an easy one to make and manufacturers face many hurdles.

This four-part blog series takes a deep-dive into smart factories and the technological, operational and strategic changes necessary for success. We’ll highlight global trends and outlooks and showcase leaders in smart manufacturing, beginning in the U.S.

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