Digital Transformation Through the Four Pillars of a Smart Factory

Plant floor operator looking at Shoplogix Digital Whiteboard on tablet surrounded by manufacturing machines

What makes a Smart Factory?

Digital transformation is changing the way manufacturing businesses operate and how they measure success. While plant floors no longer have to base performance metrics on the manual collection of data, employees can focus on task completion and productivity thanks to real-time data and true insights. The goal of overcoming obstacles to reach enterprise-wide success while driving continuous improvement can be achieved through digital transformation under a smart factory solution. 

The power of assets, data, processes and people

Smart factories in the Industry 4.0. (i4.0) era involve connected assets and digitization. However, to synergize these effectively, manufacturers require a solution that operates using the four pillars of success. These pillars include: assets, data, processes and people. 

While assets refer to the connectivity that brings data from every machine and system together under one platform, the data pillar itself refers to embracing new systems and procedures to gain traction and compound insights through multiple layers and a phased plan. Processes refer to real-time systems that can drive action, hold individuals accountable and deliver accurate and useful information to the right people at the right time. 

In terms of the people aspect, engagement at every level of an enterprise is key. This is because collaboration drives digitization efforts through the willingness to adapt to new technologies. Moreover, it is through employees that an enterprise can continue driving accountability and improvement due to the need to measure the performance of different roles. 

Let’s dig a little deeper into these 4 pillars:

1. Assets

Business leaders must work closely with the information technology (IT) department and control teams in order to leverage the current infrastructure of a plant. This involves working with digital capabilities that can deliver machine truth, production details, as well as accurate uptime and downtime information. Connectivity is required in the digitization of a smart factory’s assets because it allows business leaders to receive the “pulse” of every machine. 

2. Data

The data aspect of a smart factory is equally as important. When business leaders focus their connectivity efforts on specific sets of data, they can, in turn, solve specific issues. An example of this would be getting to the root of machine downtime via automated data collection that provides a true picture of the issue. Changeover investigations can also be done via automation, making it easier to quickly and accurately identify the causes of scrap and waste. The ability for a smart factory to process data such as pressures and temperatures can lead to deeper insights into the productivity levels of a plant floor. 

3. Processes

This pertains to the ability to connect the dots within a plant in order to deliver the right information to the right people. A system that uses real-time data is integral to this because it drives action while tracking accountability. By embracing this pillar of a smart factory, business leaders go beyond simple reporting and assist in building a continuous improvement platform. Processes should also be secure and easy for operators on the plant floor and employees of various departments to understand and adhere to on a daily basis. A simplified flow of information from machines to people is key.

4. People

The ability to engage all members of a plant floor alongside executive staff members is one of the most important aspects of a smart factory platform. Getting everyone involved, no matter their status or position, allows employees to become more aware of their own performance. In turn, performance indicators give operators, maintenance teams, engineers, quality teams, scheduling staff, material handlers and managers an accurate representation of how their actions affect throughput. 

Here are a few tips to consider when implementing new data workflows:

  • Make sure that sales orders and production demand can move seamlessly from the enterprise resource planning (ERP) department to operations.
  • Connecting warehouse and logistics teams can reduce inventory and freight costs. 
  • Eliminate the use of paper in order to correlate all the collected data in a seamless manner.
  • Connecting the smart factory platform to the maintenance system can automatically create work orders and provide staff members with useful feedback. 
  • Link the plant’s attendance system and machine performance statistics to get a better understanding of the cost per hour of running and managing each machine.

When combined, assets, data, processes and people lead to operational success. Manufacturers who wish to aggressively grow must acknowledge the need to solve their challenges through digitization.

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