What is a Digital Factory?
Let’s first define exactly what a Digital Factory is. A Digital factory simply is a production facility where all of the information and data is shared. This means the people are sharing data, but also the machines are all connected to the same network. In even simpler terms, just no more paper. This way every person and machine is made aware of everything that is happening through each different stage of the production process.
This is all great technology of course, but the real question is whether this can have a real effect on your bottom line. Is there any real value? If I make this investment to become a digital factory, will I generate a positive ROI? These are all valid questions. In this article, we will go more in-depth into what a digital factory is, and why it is a good investment for manufacturers.
How does a Digital Factory Increase Efficiency, leading to more company revenue?
A digital factory is the digitization of your manufacturing process. A digital factory is a completely connected system in which people interact directly with your equipment, equipment interacts with other equipment, and the majority of people are accessing equipment data through software systems.
Getting the production schedule down to the plant floor is typically done by paper. What is the value in this being done digitally, if people are then creating and entering schedules from paper? Interrupting the digital information flow with paper schedules and work orders introduces opportunities for data errors and mistakes. With a digital factory:
- You can automate machines to take over some tasks, allowing you to focus on the bigger picture and continuous improvement.
- The equipment can take the data directly from the machine, from the source of truth. This is the most accurate way to gather data, as well as the quickest.
This equates to fewer errors. Cutting out the human interaction, and letting the equipment interact with other equipment is a much more efficient process. If the machines are not connected, the accuracy of your production schedule is based completely on who knows the most about what is happening on the floor. When you build a digital factory use using an IIoT system, your schedule can rely on the information that is coming straight from the equipment itself. You can also write algorithms that update the schedule in real-time without having to have a person make that decision, and then execute the process themself. You will have full control over what happens on the plant floor and have the information to make the right data-driven decisions.
This is just one example of how building a digital factory can improve your manufacturing process. There is no shortage of demand for products. This means the more efficient you can be, the more business and money you can generate. Faster production and happier customers with accurate data-based estimates will make for a less stressful environment and more revenue.
How does a Digital Factory affect Company Culture?
A digital factory can create a less stressful environment. With all of the data you are collecting, you will have more insight into what is happening in your machines, you will be much more knowledgeable about your plant floor. This is because you will not be guessing about anything anymore. When there is a problem, you will have detailed data to help you make a decision. One step further, your machine might even see that problem coming, and make the adjustment without you having to do a single thing.
Trying to diagnose a broken piece of equipment can be time-consuming and difficult. IIoT protocols help with preventative maintenance so that problems can be anticipated and avoided. And when a problem does occur, you again have the data to assist you in solving the problem. More uptime less stress!
Operators on the plant floor will also benefit from the smarter machines and data because small and repetitive tasks will be completely automated. Now, your operator can focus more on the data and improving the production process, while the machine is efficiently taking care of the task.
Everyone will have access to more data and know the machines better. There will be less confusion over metrics, KPI’s, and results. A much larger emphasis on continuous improvement, and a much smaller emphasis on the person doing the actual work that the machine could be doing on its own.
The company will be improving efficiency constantly, and employees will have a clearer headspace and be more productive. Both of these are great for establishing a positive company culture.
Real-time metrics are a big deal. Supervisors will have the ability to make decisions based on data from right now, not based on a report from yesterday. This does not only apply to the machine data either. Instant information on scheduling, sales that just came in, weather, currency exchange rates, shipping. All of this data is available and it is all in real-time, with no delay.
This is helpful for you, and also makes communication with the customers smoother. For example, let’s say you got a weather update for a snowstorm that now is going to affect your delivery route and shipping time. You will know this right away, and now you might have to adjust your schedule from 2 days to 4 days to get this product delivered to the customer. You can adjust your schedules and production time instantly to accommodate the storm. Now you have more clarity and organization. The customer is aware of the problem faster and has a new accurate delivery time.
Big Data Analytics
So there are real-time metrics, and Big data analytics provides you with data from the past. Industry 4.0 and building a digital factory, put a large emphasis on real-time metrics. Big data analytics is also an important piece that gives your plant insight from historical data to improve your production process in real-time. This data helps provide a lot of improvement on-
- Preventative Maintenance
- Machine Learning
How does Big Data Analytics help in this aspect? It takes historical data and can help you see what you learned from collecting data on your last project, or projects from a long time ago. The point of all of this is so that your machines can begin to learn to predict from the historical data that you are going to run into a problem that you have already encountered in the past. Machines will see this coming and make the adjustment to avoid repeating the same problem. Machines understand the production process better, and the operator will develop a deeper understanding of how the machine works. Smarter machines, smarter people, fewer problems, and smoother production.
There is a lot of benefits to building a digital factory, and this is just the tip of the iceberg. A lot of people hear digital factory and think that it means they would have to invest hundreds of millions of dollars to build an entirely new factory with all smart equipment. This really is not the case at all. In all reality, you can make a much smaller investment and make your current factory a digital factory. There is a lot of ways to equip older machines to be compatible with Industry 4.0, Digital Factory protocols. It does not have to be such a large investment. At Ectobox, we specialize in helping companies find an affordable solution that fits their needs. Contact us anytime with questions, we are happy to help!