Automation i Production is nothing new. In fact, it has been around for almost 200 years – changing the face of how we manufacture our products and ensure quality. What is new? The way in which Internet of things promises to take smart factory automation to a whole new level by intelligently connecting every stage of the product’s lifecycle, from sourcing to delivery and right into the customer’s home.
IoT’s promise of manufacturing has been called the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0 too short. The new connected to factory creates unimaginable opportunities for quality improvement, using IoT to build bridges that help solve the old problems of frustrating disconnection among suppliers, employees, customers and more. This creates a coherent production environment where every employee feels invested in product quality – and every customer’s feedback is appreciated and learned.
Smart factories: Why now?
As the complexity of the modern supply chain explodes – and real-time customer expectations increase – manufacturers need more control over their production process than ever before. The only problem: The many pieces of the manufacturing puzzle move so fast that spreadsheets and human analysis alone are not enough to control them. Companies need advanced analytics to process the vast amounts of data created via smart sensors and IoT, and even more agile processes to integrate the data and keep pace with customer demand.
In the past, manufacturing was a linear process. Products moved through the factory – and the larger supply chain – in a clear and straightforward way. But now, the global digital marketplace has changed all this. Companies manufacture on-demand products, procure numerous suppliers from around the world and manage customer feedback via social media before their customer service representatives ever hear the complaint. It makes sense that a faster, smoother and more efficient model for product delivery is needed. And IoT is the perfect tool to deliver it.
Yes, even the idea of implementing a smarter factory environment can be overwhelming. But it’s worth – and probably necessary – if you want your business to thrive in the digital market. For example, one factory found that while producing air conditioners with a fully automated production line, 3D scanners and IoT technology, it could reduce lead times and costs while reducing the number of defective products by 50 percent, reduce warranty costs.1 And it is now. Imagine what the benefits will be as IoT continues to expand.
If you’re still not sold at the smart factory, consider this: Embracing IoT can help your business in three key ways so you can:
- Produces a higher quality product.
- Improve your internal production processes.
- Improve customer experience (CX).
A better product
Previously, when companies reported, collected information from various factory floor stations and summarized customer service data, the effects of subpar quality had already been felt throughout the customer base. In other words, the damage had already been done. IoT in manufacturing changes all this. Smart factories enable businesses to stream real-time data, creating insights that allow on-site changes in source materials, machine functionality, and even customer service.
Smart sensors, for example, can ensure that any item – be it a garment or top secret defense weapon – has exactly the same quality level as before. Imagine how many millions of dollars this can save on lost products, customer complaints and damage to your company’s brand.
In fact, the beautiful thing about IoT in manufacturing is that once an error is found, the machine can be taught to self-correct to fix this error before any additional errors occur. That’s right: With the gift of artificial intelligence, machines can perform jobs that humans alone used to manage. And they can do it in almost real time. This leads to better products and fewer losses everywhere.
A smarter process
It is impossible to keep a trained eye on all equipment and machinery in the production area. Nevertheless, there is nothing that causes a great loss such as dealing with unplanned maintenance. Companies not only feel the hit in lost production, they also lose employee productivity. This is something that no business can afford in today’s market.
Sensors in the smart factory setting allow manufacturers to automatically monitor wear in real time. machine Learning can create precise models unique to each process that can track time for replacement of parts and machines. For example, if the cutting blades in a paper mill go a little slow, it can create a bumpy edge that consumers don’t like – one that could take multiple rows for a human inspector to catch. Predictable maintenance can help plan the replacement of knives before this failure ever occurs. Even better, it can schedule the replacement for offline hours so no production time is lost. This in turn increases the company’s overall agility, which is what digital transformation is all about.
As I’ve said before, CX is the heart of digital transformation.2 And nothing helps the customer experience better than consistent quality. When customers know they can always rely on your brand to deliver the quality they need and expect, they will come back to you. That’s what the power of IoT can deliver.
Still, production is only part of the equation. By analyzing the data that smart sensors capture while using products in customers’ homes, manufacturers can get a better sense of when or if products fail, how they are used, and how to adjust the production experience accordingly. Using advanced analytics, they can also quickly process public comments posted on social media about their products, allowing them to tend to customer complaints in near real time. If it’s not empowerment, I don’t know what is.
The need for the smart factory is now
According to a McKinsey report, the potential value of IoT in factory settings could hit nearly $ 4 trillion by 2025.3 Some estimate that it could add $ 15 trillion to the world economy by 2030. Waiting to hop aboard the smart factory train will only leave today’s companies in the dust.
How do you know if your company is ready for the smart factory? First, you need to be willing to invest in IoT analytics technology – preferably technology with strong data visualization capabilities to help your teams understand and process the data. In fact, there is almost no point in using IoT technology if you do not have analytics to help you process the data it creates.
And lastly, you need talent. After all, tomorrow’s factory workers are not the same as factory workers of 1820. Today’s automation is based on high-powered, real-time machines that work on complex analysis and make fast, data-driven decisions. If your IT, HR and flooring team is unfamiliar with IoT capabilities, take the time to educate them.
Building a smarter factory can take a cultural shift on some levels of the organizations. But from where I stand, it’s worth a shift.
About the author
Daniel Newman is the principal analyst for Futurum Research and CEO of Broadsuite Media Group. He works with the world’s largest technology brands exploring digital transformation and how it impacts the business. He is regularly cited in CIO.Com, CIO Review, CNBC and hundreds of other sites around the world. Newman is a five-time best-selling author, including Building Dragons: Digital Transformation in the Experience Economy, and is also a contributor to Forbes, entrepreneur and the Huffington Post, and a graduate professor.