The transformation into smart factories has been the biggest buzz of the 21st century among the manufacturers so far. It’s simple to see why.
With the promise of the reduced cost of production, the possibility of accurately predicting demand, improved quality control, and improved safety, there is nothing not to like if you are a manufacturer.
Smart factories are taking advantage of machine automation to optimize production. Self-sufficiency and connectivity are the biggest selling points of a smart factory. With the ability to easily make adjustments and self-correct, smart factories offer more flexibility in comparison to their former counterparts.
The smart factory revolution is solely based on the industrial internet of things concept where different components in the industry (things) can communicate with each other to share data at every step of the production process. Without analytical tools to analyze this data and make any sense of it, it wouldn’t make much difference.
The loop will not be complete without the information technology to interpret the analysis. When the loop is complete, the result is real-time valuable information from which informed decisions can be drawn. At the heart of all these functions AI without which none of these would be possible.
With artificial intelligence, we can accurately use real-world statistics gathered to make impactful predictions for the production process like the amount of raw materials inventory we need to hold at a time, production units needed for the market at a certain time among others.
Machine learning is another aspect of the AI which is critical in the transformation to smart factories. This aspect entails the ability of machines to use the real-time data gathered to self-correct or highlight areas for human intervention where necessary enabling constant improvement of the production process.
While AI is evolving there are some hurdles that we are yet to navigate. To develop an ‘artificially intelligent’ system for the factory, for instance, a huge amount of the real-world data is needed beforehand which is not easy to gather. If the wrong data is provided, then the whole system would need to be redone.
When dealing with AI systems, when things go wrong, it is not as simple to diagnose the problem. Another challenge when it comes to AI is that the algorithms required to create these systems are not easy to develop.
Even with these limitations, the growing complexity in the manufacturing processes globally makes the evolution into smart factories inevitable. The need for technically qualified workers who can steer the advancement is also a challenge as the education system is lagging behind when it comes to the preparation of graduates.
The current education system is not designed to cope with the dynamic technological world. Whereas technology is responsible for the emergence of smart factories, the social necessity ‘mother of all inventions’ is also a pulling force towards the revolution.
Smart factory standards
Standards are an integral part of any production process. The smart factories are not exempt from this rule. For the smart factory to be functional, a lot of production standards need to be observed. New standards need to be developed along the way to ensure continuous improvement of the manufacturing process and the quality of the final product.
There must be a free flow of information across all the levels of manufacturing in a smart factory to maintain a high quality of production. More standards need to be developed to make this collaboration even quicker and more effective. Maintaining these standards is a challenge to the manufacturers.
One of the major obstacles of the smart factory revolution is the cybersecurity threat. With a smart factory, all the components and machines are interconnected with a central control system which is the anchor device. With such connections, the system is very vulnerable to cyber-attacks from anywhere. A hacker can shut down the whole operation.
Data theft is also another growing concern in the industry. Cyber thieves can steal private customer information from the system which makes people hesitant to share their personal information.
All these issues make security a growing concern even as manufacturers continue to transform their factories into smart factories. The vulnerabilities created by the dependence of the system on machines that can break down any time and completely stop the manufacturing process is also another area of concern.
The development of concrete security measures to deal with cybercrimes is an important part of the transition into the smart factories of the future. Without any tangible progress in this area, a full transition will only remain a distant dream.
In the meantime, insurance against such security threats seems like the only way to cushion oneself from the exposure and the imminent threat.
As factory revolution takes shape, smart factories require interconnections of a large number of devices. This means that the information governance aspect of the transition needs some serious consideration. With all the wireless communication required for the devices, the government will be required to allocate more commercial spectrum bands which are limited.
Currently, the American government states that there is enough spectrum for the development of smart factories in the near future. Should there be a surge in the number of devices to exceed the projected number, there will be a crisis.
Ensuring that there is no interference for the smooth running of the smart factories is also another administrative challenge for the government.
These are issues that need to be addressed if there will be a successful transition not only in the US but also in other countries hoping to make the transition.