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    The Digital Factory: How Smart Manufacturing is Driving Industry 4.0

    What is a Digital Factory?

    A digital factory uses technology to automatically share information digitally across the operation, including data from materials, people, and machines. Digital manufacturing relies on an integrated system consisting of simulation technologies, connected equipment, and collaboration tools.

    There is no single technology that turns an analog factory into a digital factory. However, there are many common technologies and traits that digital factories share, and manufacturers that blend multiple technologies are the ones most likely to be considered “digital factories.”

    Digital factories are the result of a digital transformation strategy to enable the use of data from people, equipment, and systems to identify and prioritize continuous improvement initiatives. Technology you might find in a digital factory includes:

    Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

    This consists of small sensors and other hardware that are connected and communicate with one another. They might be used for asset management, energy reduction through smart HVAC and lighting, or machine data collection, although there is a nearly unlimited number of use cases for IIoT in manufacturing.

    Big Data

    When IIoT devices collect data, it has to go somewhere. Same for other data that manufacturers commonly collect like customer data, production data, supplier data, etc. Big data simply refers to these massive stores of information that manufacturers can pull from as well as ways to sort and manage this information for use with other tools and analytics software. Interested in learning more about this concept? Read our complete article on “Industrial DataOps."

    Predictive Analytics and Machine Learning

    In regards to manufacturing, as well as other industries, machine learning and predictive analytics are one such use case for the collected data mentioned above. Data can be combined and used to fuel machine learning models that offer decision-making insights from sets of information that can be too complex for humans to derive value from alone. Machine learning and predictive analytics can be used to forecast demand, perform predictive and prescriptive maintenance on machines, spot openings and opportunities in the market, and much, much more. This is a very powerful aspect of a digital factory.

    Predictive Analytics for Manufacturing Equipment Guide

    Automation

    With smart, connected machines comes the opportunity for humans to step outside of the loop, and allow automation to step in. In many cases, machines are better able to handle tasks faster and more accurately than their human counterparts. Industrial automation frees these humans to focus on other complex cognitive tasks that are better suited for human minds than machine minds (at least for today.)

    Some digital factories take automation to the next level using lights-out manufacturing techniques, removing humans from the manufacturing process entirely. The term comes from the ability to start the factory, turn the lights out, and walk out with the understanding that the factory will continue to produce, even 24 hours a day, without human intervention.

    Cloud and Edge Computing Technology

    Cloud technology empowers digital factories with the ability to store and analyze vast swaths of data using secure equipment they share with others, accessed through the web. Cloud technology affords manufacturers faster and more powerful machines and greater storage capacities (with greater protections) than what is usually feasible to purchase and maintain in-house.

    Edge computing takes data coming from the factory floor and processes it close by, removing the wait time it can take to upload to the cloud, analyze, and redistribute info to the factory floor. Edge computing enables real-time analytics and ultra-fast decision-making using data, and is perfect for safety mechanisms, predictive maintenance, and similarly time-sensitive computing tasks.

    What else do digital factories have in common?

    • No Paper: Because processes are digitized, there is no need for paper in a digital factory. Everything is stored on the cloud or locally, in digital format.
    • Connected Stack: As mentioned, it’s less about having one technology or another, and more about having a system of integrated technologies. This can include PLC info from the floor, merged with ERP data, merged with MES and SCADA data, etc. This exchange of information between machines allows for quick, data-driven, machine-led decision making at all levels of the manufacturing process.
    • Real-Time Metrics: To operate with the type of efficiency expected from a digital factory, manufacturers must have access to real-time metrics that let them adjust on the fly to ensure production goals and other company initiatives are continuing to be met—no surprises.
    • Big Data Analytics: Having tons of data does no good unless it is processed and analyzed. This type of analysis helps digital factories make more informed decisions that are based on the numbers, allowing them to spot trends, opportunities, problems, and areas to increase efficiencies.

    What are the Benefits of a Digital Factory?

    One of the most obvious benefits of a digital factory is a major boost to efficiency. By removing inefficient human decision-making processes that can be not only slow, but also biased or simply incorrect, factories can produce more with less—less time, less material resources, fewer malfunctions, and scrap parts, etc.

    Although many manufacturing employees worry that the influx of automation and other digital technologies will put them out of the job, digital manufacturing opens up opportunities for more, new, higher-paying jobs that many people find more engaging and fulfilling. These higher-paying jobs also attract young, new talent to the field with new insights and concepts to better the facility.

    In the same vein, digital factories are breeding grounds for innovation. Because of the agility imbued into the system by way of real-time analytics, there is more room to experiment, be creative, find solutions to new problems within the market, and test ideas at scale without spending unnecessary resources.

    Digital factories even see an uptick in customer satisfaction, because costs can go down, shipping times can go down, all the while quality and consistency go up.

    Digital Factory Software

    MachineMetrics supports digital factory initiatives at every level of implementation. From our high-speed data connectors that collect machine data directly from the source at 1kHz (1000x faster than the 1hZ available on most industrial sensors) to our data standardization software that ensures the information you collect plays nice together and can get you results immediately.

    Our cloud and edge computing capabilities support both deep analytics and long-term storage on the cloud as well as near-instant, real-time analysis to fuel fast decision making on the edge.

    And on the surface, our customizable dashboards offer a variety of views into your data, whether that’s a quarterly overview for directors or real-time production stats on the shop floor, everyone can access the information they need when they need it in a simple-to-understand, color-coded format. And for shop floor workers, we offer tablets directly at the machinery so they can overlay human context with the data we collect—we empower humans, not remove them from the loop. All of this plus industrial-level security has our customers seeing ROI in as little as five days.

    Reach out to our team to learn more about MachineMetrics, or book a demo today.

    MachineMetrics Industrial IoT Platform

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