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Digital, Connected And Collaborative: Managing The Smart Factory Of Tomorrow :

    Digital, Connected And Collaborative: Managing The Smart Factory Of Tomorrow :

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Digital, Connected And Collaborative: Managing The Smart Factory Of Tomorrow :

Originally Posted: Manufacturingtodayindia

Manufacturing companies are, today, undergoing a significant transition period – distribution channels are choked, supply chain and logistics are impacted and profits are falling. Volatility has become a watchword among executives. The recently announced GDP data painted a clear picture of the damage the ongoing covid-19 crisis has caused. For the first time in 41 years, the Indian economy contracted by a whopping 22.6%. Manufacturing activities beat the index having contracted by 39.3% – a stark difference to a growth of 3% during the same period last year. Executives are now grappling with the long-term question: How will manufacturing and supply chains look post covid-19?

Here are some trends that are expected to shape up the manufacturing and logistics industry in the post-COVID world.

Smart factories for smarter manufacturing

With Industry 4.0 many manufacturers have started including automation, advanced analytics and connectivity to help transform operations; right from production efficiency to improving speed-to-market and creating new business models. Smart factories help address challenges by eliminating the disconnect among each element of the supply chain such as manufacturing, logistics, procurement, as well as the sales channel over retail and online purchases.

In fact, the manufacturing industry is now seeing a transition to smart factories in which technologies like AI, (Industrial) IoT, advanced analytics, robotics are being applied across the product cycle – from product planning, manufacturing and sales & marketing.

Smart factories have helped create highly digitised and well-connected setups. These technologies have enabled hyper-flexible and communicative manufacturing capabilities, connected frontline workers via technology and aligned multiple supply chain functions. Smart factories also allow for real-time updates, efficient and quality-assuring systems that are also flexible enough to react to the market demand. Such systems lead to increased customer satisfaction and trust. We are seeing this play out today, as brands have been pushed to move towards contactless set-ups as well as remote asset maintenance, all of which is possible in a smart factory environment.

Connecting the physical and cyber worlds

Smart factories have become a place where machines and workforce intersect and connect with the use of sensors and wearable robots linking the physical and cyber world. Wearable technology mimics human movements, assists with muscle strength and improves efficiency. It also creates datasets which feed predictive models to deploy robust business strategies related to machine maintenance and uptime, asset optimization and more.

For automakers, using smart manufacturing 4.0 practices can enable them to produce zero-to-low defect vehicles because of fool-proof quality checks. The supply chain can be kept up to speed by using robust communication systems, and robotics and automation can improve operational efficiency. For example, Hyundai Motors uses augmented assembly line workers such as collaborative robots (co-bots), to complement human tasks which enhances productivity. It is also at the forefront when it comes to using co-bots for painting, welding, etc.

The mechanism for autonomous picking, testing, inspecting and packaging can be the difference between shuttered plants to business-as-usual setups. Connected systems and emerging technologies could eventually lead to formulating strategies for new products and higher revenue strategy, agile demand fulfilment as well as inventory optimization.

A digitized future beyond factory walls

With Industry 4.0 we are seeing smart factories extend outside of the factory into the supply chain, as well as distribution and logistics channels. Now, manufacturers can look at deploying solutions beyond the walls of the factory; reaching out to consumers, addressing challenges at production plants, and managing delivery challenges.

By using emerging technologies such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), customers can virtually examine products at the comfort of their homes; while at the same time it can also facilitate design, ensure safety and quality assurance, enabling engineers to make adjustments mid-development. Ikea is at the forefront of bringing such innovations to offer immersive customer experiences. It enables its customers to use AR to place furniture in their home, which means the showroom now moves to the home, resulting in opportunities for new ways to sell and interact.

Further, by gathering information from multiple data sources and building powerful visualization tools as well as machine learning models on top of it, manufacturers can gain actionable insights when it comes to;

  • getting visibility across the supply chain, into customer demand and delivery of goods
  • in-depth cost analysis to track materials and production costs through multiple layers of information
  • enabling front-line workers to make real-time (applications of edge-computing) decisions thereby reducing waste and improving on-time delivery

A New Reality Manufacturing leaders seeking to embrace smart factories and deriving its maximum potential must look at smart factories as an agile supply system connected to customer demand. Going forward, we will see the convergence and alignment of IT, operational technology (OT), IIOT, analytics and robotics.

We need to be prepared for the big cultural changes that smart factories will create; for example, there will be a need to upskill towards digital skill sets. In the near future, we will see more manufacturers focusing on investments such as; minimizing supply chain stress, ramping up robotic investments and developing an integrated analytics vision. The future, however, is not just digital but also analogue; and will be determined by how well people and processes can be integrated/ blended into the manufacturing system.

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