HIDDEN FACTORY - Science-Fiction? Ridiculousness? Or Real Manufacturing Value?

Category : Digital Transformation
Blog posted by : Admin / 22 Jul, 2020

Imagine a ghost factory existing in a parallel dimension inside a manufacturing plant. Now, this might sound like a work of fiction but bear with me in this metaphor, because there is a very valuable point to be made. We are referring to the hidden potential of manufacturing plants. There's always some unused/untapped performance potential in most manufacturing plants. This unused potential is called "hidden factory", and the term was coined by Armand Feigenbaum in the late1970's.

What if you could tap into all that leaking potential? What if you could increase productivity and performance without adding any additional manufacturing investment? When Armand Feigenbaum introduced this concept, he also believed that the loss in productivity/performance due to the unused potential could have been up to 40%.

 

The factors that cause this unutilised capacity include inefficient process management, shortfalls in quality management which also leads to product rework, time management inefficiencies, performance loss, and equipment management. All of these factors cause a great amount of wastage of all resources including time, capital, raw materials, labour, etc. Add to that the fact that it also leaves a lot of potential untouched, and not using resources to their maximum capacity. The benefits of tapping into the capacity of the hidden factory are tremendous, to say the least.


 

How to tap into the capacity of the hidden factory?

 

So, how exactly can organisations tap into the potential of the hidden factory and draw its benefits? The simple answer is technology. Specifically, Industry 4.0 technology.

 

Industry 4.0 is basically the term used to refer to the fourth industrial revolution. While it mainly refers to technologies that revolutionise the management of the industrial value chain, it isn't exclusive to industry applications. A good way for a layman to look at it would be as revolutionary technologies that emphasise greatly on automation, artificial intelligence, big data, real-time data, and an ecosystem of interconnectivity.

 

The potential impact that smart technologies can make is tremendous. Given the nature of smart technologies, they work on all aspects such as analysing shortfalls, identifying gaps in the system, recognising areas of improvement, and optimising processes. The focus of employing these smart technologies should be to reduce wastage, improve lead time, automate menial tasks, minimise errors, and boost efficiency. The desired final outcome is obviously maximised productivity.




 

Let us take a look at a few technologies that will enable organisations to unlock their hidden factory.

 

Artificial Intelligence

 

I'm sure this is not the first time you've heard of Artificial Intelligence, it is all the rage right now. It undoubtedly has an argument to be considered the most fascinating technology. More importantly, it opens up endless possibilities, and hence its potential in every field is virtually limitless.

 

From analysis to predictive technology, artificial intelligence already has tremendous applications.

 

Sensors & Automatic Identification

 

Automatic Identification with RFID, imagers, beacons, barcodes, GPS, RLTS, voice recognition, and POS systems will enhance supply chain with enhanced process control and inventory management.

 

The real-time, complete visibility into the supply chain facilitated by sensors and automatic identification will address traditional limitations. 

 

Cloud Computing & Storage

 

Cloud Computing enables you to establish a virtual office with the ability to stay connected to your factory at all times no matter where you go. Cloud computing and storage deliver great cost efficiency and scalability which directly affect productivity.

 

Cloud services also offer business continuity, efficient collaboration, and process flexibility.

 

Robotic Process Automation (RPA)

 

The benefits of RPA in manufacturing are tremendous. It not only saves precious labour, but it also saves time by automating menial tasks because robots work faster. Additionally, RPA also decreases error, because robots cannot commit human error.

 

Robotic production ensures consistent output. Employees whose labour time is saved by RPA can be utilised in higher-value tasks, which will not only enhance productivity but also improve employee satisfaction leading to a better quality of work. Anomalies and other warning signs will be easier to recognise with RPA, which will lead to more efficient manufacturing.



 

Predictive Analytics

 

Predictive Analytics greatly aids in enhancing manufacturing in multiple ways. Predictive Analytics improves machinery utilisation by predicting when machines need to be shut down, in order to function well. And when machines are at their best, products will be at their best quality. Predictive Analytics also aids a great deal in quality improvement. One of the major functions of predictive analytics is preventive maintenance, and it has tremendous benefits. With preventive maintenance, the system will automatically send out notifications for machinery/equipment to be looked at before there is any malfunction by predicting it. Furthermore, manufacturing can be optimised by forecasting demand. All of this results in a tremendous amount of enhancement in manufacturing.

 

3D Printing

 

3D printing is truly a gigantic leap forward in the world of manufacturing technology. Product design and development stage is not only a crucial stage in a manufacturing business but can also be quite time-consuming at times. With 3D printing, prototyping and modelling will be sped up greatly, and design validation, testing and approval will be much faster.

 

It is only natural that faster validation and approval in the product development stage means faster to market times. Additionally, businesses can also use 3D printing to test with consumers in pilot testing. This has already been done and has achieved great success.

 

Customisation has become one of the most sought after things among consumers. Catering to this tremendous demand for customisation is difficult with traditional technology and methods. But with 3D printing, catering to the needs of consumers desiring customised products will be made immensely easier.

 

IoT

 

The Internet of Things (IoT) refers to a system of computing devices that are interconnected and constantly communicate with each other transferring data through a network without any need for human intervention.

 

IoT is an enabler of a number of cutting-edge technology applications such as predictive maintenance, smart factory, and digital twin. It's applications in IoT are tremendous.



 

There are various amalgamations of multiple technologies which have enormous benefits for the manufacturing world. Here are three such promising applications of technologies that will/are revolutionising the manufacturing world.

 

Smart Factory

 

A smart factory is a setup where the entire factory is connected on a single network with unceasing sharing of data and information enabling a seamless process from the start to the end. It does not only facilitate real-time analytics and real-time actions, but it also creates a flow that is like a smoothly flowing stream by optimising processes and enhancing transitions between stages/phases.

 

Such an entirely connected and intelligent factory optimises the entire system and attains process excellence thereby boosting productivity and performance.


 

Autonomous vehicles and drones

 

With today's cutting-edge technologies, self-driving vehicles and drones that can be trusted to carry out warehouse functions and manufacturing plant operations entirely on their own are not far. Using pre-programmed self-driving vehicles and drones for moving materials and forklift operations would greatly improve efficiency and productivity.

 

Add to that the technology of image recognition and various artificial intelligence and machine learning capabilities and these autonomous vehicles and drones can also enhance inventory control with immense efficiency.


 

Digital Twin

 

Simply put, a Digital Twin is a digital replica of a physical object or system. But that is not all it is, it is a virtual model that provides a dynamic representation of its physical counterpart. This is not limited to a single object or system, this could also be for an entire ecosystem, such as a manufacturing site or plant.

 

Managing manufacturing plants and machinery will be a dream-like experience with Digital Twin technology. We will be experiencing the futuristic technology that we are seeing in movies. We can now bring up virtual models of assets and also interact with them through hand gestures and voice commands. With advanced analytics and artificial intelligence, we can simply bring up a virtual representation of a manufacturing site or a piece of machinery and get live information on its performance and status.

 

Additionally, with digital twin product engineering, development, design customisation, and production will be amped up as if on steroids.



 

In conclusion, unlocking the hidden factory will elevate manufacturing businesses to new heights. Leveraging next-gen technology in manufacturing is going to be the key in staying ahead of the curve. When manufacturers realise the potential of their hidden factories, it is going to make manufacturing businesses way more productive and profitable; it will truly be a new world.


Top Blogs