Research & Best Practices

Step-By-Step Guide to Building a Smart Factory


What is a smart factory? The term is becoming more and more common, usually in conjunction with Industry 4.0, but it isn’t always exactly clear to what it is referring to. In this piece, we’ll explain what the smart factory is and share steps on how to start on the path to one — taking advantage of the benefits that smart factory technology can offer.

What is a smart factory?

A smart factory is one where “connected” monitors and sensors — meaning that they communicate with each other and with your central data system via wireless connections — are used to collect data on many aspects of your equipment processes. That data is then analyzed — utilizing tools like Computerized Maintenance Management Systems (CMMS) — to facilitate smart manufacturing. This yields increased efficiency, operational improvements, optimized production, more targeted maintenance, and more.

Smart factory sensors are found in various areas of smart manufacturing. For example, vibration sensors are highly sensitive and tightly calibrated to identify irregularities in the operation of equipment and components, including motors, fasteners, and bearings. These sensors can trigger an alarm that enables the facility to address the problem before it causes an unplanned shutdown. Sensors also can improve safety in the smart facility. By introducing advanced sensor technology into material handling equipment such as forklifts, scissor lifts, and self-driving vehicles, this equipment not only receives feedback on potential dangers to personnel, but also can take steps to avoid them by shutting down or moving out of the way.

Benefits of the smart factory

Smart factory technology can yield numerous benefits, and they start as soon as you begin implementation. These benefits include:

  • More educated maintenance: In smart factories, predictive maintenance is the norm, rather than preventive maintenance. With predictive maintenance, impending maintenance needs are identified and addressed well before they become production issues. Over time, this technology allows for maintenance to become a much more valuable and efficient process.
  • More uptime: Better maintenance means fewer unscheduled downtime events, and allows for more targeted, productive downtime when it is necessary. With more uptime for your equipment, you increase the return on both your equipment and your smart technology investments through higher production yields.
  • Increased production efficiency: Smart factories enable real-time monitoring and adjustments at the finest levels, ensuring that quality is more consistent thanks to equipment that now operates at peak performance more often.

Step-by-step guide to building your smart factory

  • Identify your needs and goals: It isn’t enough to simply decide that you want to implement a smart factory and go from there. As with any equipment or technology investment, the “why” is critical to making sure that you’re investing in the right areas. Most smart factory implementations occur in phases. It’s important to identify your priorities so that you are investing in the right equipment at the right time. Aiming to quickly boost your maintenance efficiency will require different technology than increasing production.
  • Get your personnel on board: More technology and automation can be intimidating to workers, who may fear that they will lack the skills or knowledge needed to work with new technology. By explaining the reasons for the shift to smart factory technology, soliciting feedback, and training employees on these new processes, you can be sure that your most valuable resource – your employees – will continue to grow and improve with you.
  • Be aware of security: With newly connected devices, cybersecurity becomes a concern. Don’t overlook this important aspect of the smart factory and take appropriate precautions to ensure your value able data is protected.
  • Make the new equipment investment: Sensors and monitors play a key part in enabling the smart factory and will likely be a new purchase requirement for you to get up and running. You may also need infrastructure upgrades (such as increased Internet and Wi-Fi bandwidth), as well as computer equipment to store, analyze and manage the large amounts of data that will be collected.
  • Make the personnel investment: You may need to invest in data analysts to turn the data collected into something usable and valuable. This is also an area where training or lateral movement from your existing personnel can be an option. This is also an area where outsourcing expert technical talent is an option.
  • Outfit your equipment and begin collecting data: Smart sensors can almost always be used with your existing equipment, so once you have the new technology you need, you’re ready to start using it.
  • Analyze and use the data: The real-time aspect of the data collected is one of the most useful aspects of the smart factory — enabling in-process adjustments and changes, as well as much earlier notice of maintenance requirements. Be sure to take advantage of this benefit, rather than using data after the fact — which will still yield benefits, but not to the extent that is possible.
  • Continue to upgrade your smart factory implementation: As you and your staff grow more familiar with smart technology and its benefits, it will become easier to continue to expand the smart technology to other areas of your facility.

Making the transition to smart factory technology

Transitioning to a smart factory can be a complex, time-consuming process, even when done in small steps. There are myriad companies with extensive expertise in smart technology, though not as many that focus on manufacturing and industry. ATS is one of these companies, with over three decades of maintenance and factory solutions expertise that include the implementation and management of smart technology. To discuss your needs, contact us today.

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