Plant of the Future: Take an ‘educated, yet realistic’ approach to the future

How will manufacturing change in the next five years? How should it change?
By Plant Engineering August 24, 2018
Kevin Lewis, Siemens
Consider these statistics: By 2020, 25% of the world’s economy will be digital, up from 15% in 2005. And by 2030, the number of connected devices will grow from 8 billion to 1 trillion. Technology is advancing at exponential rates and over the next five years digitalization and automation will continue to increase in manufacturing. Factories will continue to move toward fully automated production lines and the advances and use of artificial intelligence will help machines understand more complex tasks.  
With this said, there will be the need for both the workforce and manufacturers to adapt and transition to new roles. The manufacturing industry will create more advanced, highly technical positions that will provide new opportunities for the digital workforce in the future. 
Company leaders are expecting plant floor operations to implement digital enterprise solutions that enable companies to truly leverage manufacturing as a competitive advantage and support better decision making in the boardroom. 
One very important component of the change over the next five years is the convergence of IT (information technology) and OT (operation technology) organizations. As digitalization accelerates, it requires IT and OT to come together to really drive the change in order to realize a sustainable competitive advantage. Manufacturing and IT operations will need to work more seamlessly to achieve this common goal.   
Rodney Rusk, Bosch Rexroth Corporation
Most companies feel simply overwhelmed or confused when they consider the Factory of the Future. With so many options on the market, they don’t know where to start or who should be on their decision-making teams. To help those companies prepare for their unique Factory of the Future journey, there are a couple of key recommendations that Rexroth has learned are vital to long-term success. 
The most important of these recommendations is optimizing or implementing Lean techniques in current operations to prepare for the Factory of the Future. Companies should take an educated, yet realistic, look at their factory’s implementation of Lean principles, procedures, and methodologies. Are they yielding the maximum benefit that following these principles, procedures, and methodologies can offer? Or, like most companies, are they applying only a handful of the Lean principles, procedures, and methodologies available. These are most likely the low-hanging fruit variety.    
Why does Rexroth recommend a good hard look at Lean? Because if companies do not have a solid, established and cultural integration of a Lean mindset, you run the risk of taking bad processes and data and multiplying their negative effect as you implement products, systems, or larger scale solutions. Before companies even start implementing [IIoT] into their factories, start by doing a detailed analysis of Lean operations, identify areas of improvement, and then implement and reap the benefits of what the Factory of the Future has to offer.”
Carsten Röttchen, Rittal
Today, improving a product alone is not enough for companies to keep up with competition. The product is closely linked with the company’s processes for development, production, and logistics, as well as the commercial processes. The entire value chain has to be taken into consideration. 
John Glenski, Automation Plus
John Glenski, president of Automation Plus. Courtesy: Automation PlusCustomization of product offering, based upon consumer demand, will continue to require significant flexibility requirements in material handling and packaging operations. Technological needs, speed to market requirements, customization, and security should continue driving capital investment. In five years, automation and operational improvements will assist manufactures in addressing end user customization and the significant labor reduction that is approaching, as the work force thins. 
Many opinions exist on how manufacturing should change to embrace the current needs of both their employees and the consumer. One area of opportunity is utilizing predictive equipment analytics and the incorporation of AR/VR. Connected technology [IIoT] and increased analytical analysis (from data scientists) can team together to allow for real time and predictive machine capabilities. In addition to the automation and analysis of equipment, automation of operational labor tasks and procedures should also increase. 
The integration of bots (software applications that perform an automated task: think Siri) should be brought into the manufacturing process and provide the benefits to manufactures that they have brought to all of our homes and businesses.
Paul J. Galeski, MAVERICK
As manufacturers make data accessible and usable to the wider enterprise, operations can make data-driven decisions in near real-time. The key factors moving forward, however, will be knowing where to leverage the data and how to apply new analytic tools to drive productivity and operational efficiency. 
In the years to come, we will see a manufacturing environment where adaptable technology allows you to easily update changing standards to provide ongoing robust cybersecurity. As the plant floor and site production systems merge with the higher-level business systems, the real fear is external threats at the business level, where the intellectual property of automation systems is more susceptible and readily available to cyberattack. In the past, automation systems were a stand-alone entity. Now they are more tightly integrated into business systems. The days of security through obscurity are gone. Today a hacker has multiple entry points into your business environment, so how you control, contain, and secure it will be key moving forward. This process requires a methodology or workflow. It is not one size fits all. 
As many hardware platforms reach the end of their life expectancy and become obsolete, modernization will be required. Legacy automation systems are no longer scalable and can’t run the latest software and compatible applications. Simply migrating to modern systems will not get the gains they need for a competitive edge. Running old processes on a new platform will not improve your operations. Through modernization, manufacturers will look for gains in optimizing productivity, energy management, safety, and more. 
In terms of the digital factory, huge investments are being made in using impactful analytic tools that are simple to apply and easy to use. These tools will allow more people to acquire information quickly, making just-in-time decisions to drive operational efficiency. New technology should allow people to graphically interact with data relative to manufacturing analytics. The technology can learn new process relationships, identify and eliminate data issues, and enrich data to leverage existing knowledge.

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