Achieving the Smart Factory Ideal.

Author:Hiskey, Terri

As the world continues to shrink, businesses are finding themselves having to compete with new market entrants that are increasingly turning the heads of their customers. To remain competitive in a progressively digital world, they are having to become fully connected enterprises that bring together people, processes and technology. And the manufacturing sector is no different. In fact, in many ways it is aiming to go even further.

Savvy manufacturers are increasingly looking to move towards a smart factory ideal that is based upon technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, analytics and the Internet of Things (IoT). It's about joining the dots to provide a pathway to success. Providing the factory with an embedded intelligence can allow it to self-regulate and maximise efficiencies from the shop floor to the board room, adjusting its course and taking optimal actions 'on the fly' without requiring any human intervention.

A fear of the unknown.

It's fair to say that, until now, the move towards smart factories has been slow to take off within the industry. The reasons for this are numerous. Mainly though, it is due to a lack of the requisite in-house expertise, an inherent reticence to move processes into the cloud and the complexity of overhauling costly legacy systems. After all, why would a business want to rip and replace something that has taken years--and many millions--to acquire? Another key reason is the fear of the unknown and unanswered questions. How will it impact my operations? What effect will it have on staff? What change management processes do I need to put in place? How can I measure value and success?

But it seems the manufacturing industry is set to take a big leap of faith, with analyst group IDC forecasting that it is going to be one of the biggest spenders on IoT over the coming years. Once thought of as the domain of connected cars and the internet fridge, the IoT is--as we have seen--a key component of the smart factory. In fact, IDC predicts that discrete manufacturing will be the top spender on IoT this year with $119 billion, and process manufacturing will spend $78 billion.

Streamlining processes.

With spending on the smart factory seemingly on the rise, it appears that the marriage of cyber and physical systems will finally become a reality. However, for a manufacturer to become truly connected and reap the benefits--such as better collaboration, control, empowerment and growth--it needs to...

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