How manufacturing departments benefit from smart factory applications

Smart factory applications are ways to apply smart factory solutions and can look different depending on the circumstance.

By Trent Maw August 22, 2022
Courtesy: Cincinnati Incorporated/Steve Rourke, CFE Media and Technology

Smart Factory Insights

  • Smart factory applications are ways to apply smart factory solutions and can look different depending on the circumstance.
  • A factory operations team can benefit from the reduced downtime, streamlined production processes and improved incident responses.
  • IT benefits from smart factories because of the smart technology adoption, big data management and interoperability.
  • HR also benefits from smart factories because of better worker safety regulations, more attractive work environments and effective worker shortage solutions.

Manufacturing is a team effort. If one thing happens on the factory floor, the entire production process and all the individuals and teams involved are invariably impacted. Consider the way a machine breakdown can influence the entire supply chain; it’s the butterfly effect in action. Smart factory applications can aid in smoothing that out.

Because manufacturing is a team effort, every decision — like leveraging smart factory applications — should create benefits for the whole organization. That means smart manufacturing can be good news for teams on the factory floor, and also for those in the informational technology (IT) department and the human relations (HR) office.

Examples of smart factory applications

Smart factory applications are just the ways in which you apply smart factory solutions. As such, they come in all shapes and sizes — which means they can have different advantages for teams. It all comes down to needs and goals (and the pragmatic utilization of technology, which is what makes a smart factory so smart).

No matter what smart factory solution chosen, the production process will improve in ways that benefit everyone. Here are a few examples of what those solutions might look like:

  • Preventive maintenance: Remember when we talked about a single machine breakdown impacting the entire supply chain? Yeah. That’s not ideal. To avoid this worst-case scenario, you can utilize preventive maintenance to stop potential problems in their tracks.
  • Predictive maintenance: While it isn’t strictly a replacement for preventive measures (they can and should coexist), it does offer unique benefits by analyzing asset data and predicting future breakdowns. That way, maintenance activities are more accurate, efficient and effective.
  • Data capture: Another way to leverage smart factory solutions is to make data capture easier. With a smart manufacturing foundation in place, mobile phones, wearable devices and other tech can be used to help workers capture data without interrupting their tasks. Meanwhile, sensors automatically capture machine data and display it side-by-side with worker-created information to create a single source of truth.
  • Data analytics: There are all kinds of analytics tools that make it possible to transform data into actionable insights, which, in turn, guide the selection and implementation of other smart factory applications.
  • Automation and machine learning: The future is now. Automation, machine learning and artificial intelligence aren’t here to replace real workers, but they can benefit your teams by relieving them of repetitive tasks while eliminating human error.
  • Eliminating disruptions: Smart manufacturing helps identify and eliminate production disruptions from any source. That means being able to look beyond machine breakdowns and see all the other things that could be creating costly inefficiencies.

Any one of these smart factory applications could usher in an industrial-sized revolution. Think about the kind of power they have when leveraging them.

Seven ways operations benefits from smart factory applications

The operations team is one of the most obvious choices when looking for a meaningful perspective on smart manufacturing. As the frontline workers, these people will be the first to benefit from any smart factory solution.

What exactly will these benefits look like?

1. Reduced downtime

No manufacturers like downtime. It’s expensive, frustrating and wasteful.

Downtime is probably most infamous among operations teams, where the impacts are felt with special severity. Delays, supply chain disruptions, missed deadlines, interrupted tasks — these are just a few things operations specialists struggle with as a result of downtime.

Although downtime will always be part of the manufacturing process, it doesn’t have to be the end of the world. Smart manufacturing makes it possible to reduce downtime across the board with solutions like preventive and predictive maintenance. When downtime does occur, smart manufacturing tools limit its impact and help Operations implement corrective actions more quickly.

2. Streamlined production processes

With a smart factory, every day can be a new industrial revolution. That’s because smart manufacturing allows your operations team to capture production data, analyze patterns and identify the simplest, most effective way to do things. If someone discovers a new best practice, that information can immediately be applied to the production process and shared across the organization.

3. Improved incident responses

As anyone on the operations team can attest, it’s easy for a small production issue to become a catastrophe. Cushioning the impact comes down to your response — was the right thing done at the right time to solve the right problem?

If the answer is no, the operations team suffers because they’re the ones who have to get the production process back on track. If, on the other hand, the answer is yes, the crisis is averted and the team can focus on working efficiently. Simply put, smart manufacturing helps keep “panic mode” at bay and gives operations experts the data they need to make incident response a breeze.

4. How IT benefits from smart factory applications

Operations workers aren’t the only people who can enjoy a smarter, better manufacturing process. In fact, pull back the curtain and you’re likely to find the entire IT department basking in their victory — because, after all, IT has an important role to play in the selection and implementation of smart manufacturing systems.

here are some of the IT-specific benefits of smart manufacturing:

5. Smarter tech adoption

Smart manufacturing helps IT teams make better decisions. When real-time data is always within reach, IT experts can identify gaps and inefficiencies. Armed with information, they can go forth and select the best tech tools for the job instead of burdening themselves and other departments with superfluous devices.

For example, instead of throwing sensors around, the team can decide exactly how many sensors are necessary and where they’ll gather the most useful data. That’s a pragmatic choice that saves time and money while delivering far more accurate results.

6. Simplified Big Data management

IT teams and Big Data go together like manufacturers and machines: One really can’t exist without the other. Unfortunately, this often means IT ends up buried under big data.

That’s where smart manufacturing comes in.

A smart factory has all the tools necessary to manage big data. With effective analytics, simplified storage and unified views of the truth, smart manufacturing solutions improve the quality and reliability of data from across the factory. This, in turn, makes it easier for the IT team to turn this information into actionable insights and otherwise work their data magic.

7. Improved interoperability

That’s just a fancy way of saying “smart manufacturing helps IT and operations teams get along.”

The truth is these departments don’t always see eye-to-eye. One doesn’t always understand the needs and goals of the other, which can result in disjointed communication and flawed tech utilization. However, with smart manufacturing systems at their disposal, IT teams can better analyze operations issues — and, just as importantly, they can suggest solutions grounded in specific, transparent data. That means the operations team will be able to see exactly what IT is talking about instead of taking anyone’s word for it.

This leads to a better relationship between two of the most important teams in any manufacturing plant. It also helps align goals across departments and make decisions that actively benefit everyone involved.

Three ways HR benefits from smart factory applications

The work done by your Operations and IT teams is indispensable. However, those teams are made up of human beings, who could benefit form predictive maintenance. That’s why the HR department deserves a spot in this conversation: They, too, can see rich benefits from smart manufacturing.

Here are just a few examples:

1. Better worker safety regulations

Taking care of manufacturers means giving them a safe place to work, and some of that responsibility falls on the HR team. Luckily, smart factory applications make this easier than ever.

That’s because a smart factory utilizes tools like machine learning (ML) and artificial intelligence (AI). These solutions help HR in two big ways:

  • They complete tasks automatically: Some might say the only way to be completely safe on the job is to not do the job at all. That’s the mentality your HR team can adopt thanks to automated task completion. Because there’s no need for a “Robot Relations” department (yet), HR experts can relax knowing human workers are responsible for fewer dangerous, demanding and difficult tasks.
  • They make tasks easier: In certain cases, a task is too intricate to be completed by automation or robots. However, these smart factory applications can still help out by handling certain elements of the job (like repetitive, error-prone tasks) and simplifying others.

2. More attractive work environments

HR departments are also responsible for hiring, which, at first glance, might not seem to have much to do with smart manufacturing.

In reality, a smart factory is a much more attractive place to work. Applicants will want to be involved in the faster, more efficient production process and will probably be excited by watching AI and ML enhance their tasks. This, in turn, makes the HR team’s job easier.

3. Effective worker shortage solutions

The manufacturing worker shortage is part of what’s being called “The Great Resignation.”

A smart factory opens doors for previously untapped talent. When the production process is streamlined, decisions are based on analytics, data is always accurate and manufacturing systems are digital-first, a company can win the attention of job seekers who may never have considered your factory. For example:

  • Older workers who aren’t ready to retire can enjoy tasks simplified and improved by smart manufacturing solutions.
  • Millennials and other young workers will appreciate the abundance of well-placed, well-utilized tech.
  • Industry newcomers, especially those who thought they’d never fit a job in manufacturing, will find a broader array of tasks and a more engaging environment they can turn into a career.

– This originally appeared on L2L’s website. L2L is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Original content can be found at L2L.

Author Bio: Trent Maw, senior director of marketing, L2L (Leading2Lean)