What Are the Considerations for Making the Transition to a Smart Factory?

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Transitioning to smart manufacturing methods is a journey. With any journey, you need a road map. Read on to learn what steps you need to take to prepare your factory for smart manufacturing.
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Smart manufacturing sounds like an attractive option – it allows you to be more efficient and gain a competitive advantage. Yet, how do you launch a smart factory initiative if you’re still running a highly analog factory?

What’s the Current State of Affairs at Your Factory?

Much like Rome, smart factories aren’t built in a day. It takes careful consideration and planning to achieve that level.

The first step in creating a smart factory is to carefully assess where you are today and what gaps exist between your current state and where you want to be. You also need to be able to explain why you want to make the leap from analog manufacturing to smart manufacturing. What goals do you want to achieve? If your answer is, “just because everyone else is doing it,” that’s not a good idea.

Don’t just look at hardware and software, though. You also have to look at your employees’ skill set. Are they ready for Industry 4.0? They might need to be retrained or reeducated.

In addition, you need to understand your processes and your supply chain. Digitalization won’t be successful if you don’t have a thorough understanding of either of those things. You absolutely must know every single step in your supply chain and what your processes are to learn how you can improve them through digitalization.

Start Small

Let’s say you’re pretty much starting from scratch with smart manufacturing. What steps should you take?

The first step is to improve data flows between existing technologies. Let’s say you have some equipment that “talks” to each other. You need to figure out what those machines are saying to each other and whether that communication is useful. For example, can the machines predict when they’re about to break down? That’s useful information.

Even integrating systems of records (such as ERP and MES systems) can make a significant difference. You have access to much more data than ever before, which can give you deeper insights into your operations.

You might think that the next step would be to invest heavily in smart manufacturing technology and get rid of your existing equipment. However, that would be a costly scenario. Instead, it might make more sense to attach sensors to legacy equipment. Even simple sensors can transmit quite a bit of data.

Adopt the Right Mindset

One of the most important parts of launching a smart factory initiative is having the right mindset. You have to look at it as a comprehensive strategy. Smart manufacturing isn’t tactical – it’s transformational.

You need a broader strategy to implement it successfully. Adopting smart manufacturing just because everyone else is doing will lead to failure. Ask yourself how smart manufacturing can help you, and you’ll be better positioned for success.

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