Where’s the ‘Factory of the Present’?

If manufacturers wait too long, their plant won’t have a chance to be considered a ‘Factory of the Future’. In an era when manufacturing is gaining respect and building strength despite the many challenges the industry faces, the laggards will be merely ‘Factories of the Past’.

05/25/2018


Four years ago when I wandered the long aisles at Hannover Messe in Germany, it was impossible to make it more than a few feet without seeing ‘Industries 4.0’ at a booth. Everyone was talking about the idea of a fourth manufacturing revolution built on digital data capture and management,and on a truly connected enterprise.

Four years later, I found a similar phrase permeating the fairgrounds. Everywhere you turned, you saw industry suppliers touting the ‘Factoryof the Future’. The thing is, every one of these suppliers had the components of this future factory available now, which begs an obvious question:

Where’s the ‘Factory of the Present’?

You know the old riddle: “What is always coming, but never arrives?” “Tomorrow—because by the time tomorrow comes, it’s today.” I think we sometimes view plant optimization the same way—it’s something we’ll get to tomorrow, or the next time we have a chance to spend a little capital improvement money,or when the plant’s production schedule slows down from ‘flat out’ to simply ‘hectic’.

The promise cited at Hannover Messe this year was that you don’t need to do everything at once. There should be time to test the concept for your own plant. To do this effectively, everyone I spoke to at this year’s event said that you first have to figure out where you want to improve in your operation. Need a better way to manage energy? Looking for a better predictive maintenance program? Having trouble with parts management? There are answers available, but you first need to ask the right questions.

The challenge for the industry’s suppliers is just as daunting. There is no shortage of money, time,and staff spent on communicating the value proposition of the Factory of the Future. There’s SO MUCH hype, in fact, that it becomes almost overwhelming. Small and mid-sized manufacturers might come to the conclusion that the solution is beyond their scope, their technical skill, or their budget. That’s an issue because the reality is that the Factory of the Future is none of the above. It is scale-able and it is modular. Plant managers can—and probably should—start small. Focus on a single problem area and test out how the technology can meet those challenges. Suppliers—and perhaps machine builders or system integrators—should be leading plant managers toward a series of small solutions rather than trying for a big one all at once. To use a baseball analogy, you can score three runs with three home runs or with a single, a double,a double,and a single—but if you swing for the fences, you’re more likely to strike out.

For those who think this whole ‘Factory of the Future’ thing is just one more fad, like the Pet Rock or Cabbage Patch Kids or Milli Vanilli, then I’d have to suggest they are either not interested in growing their operations or they like lagging behind their competitors. This digital plant is real, and its coming fast—probably not as fast as anyone wants, but the momentum is unavoidable. It is rolling downhill, it is gaining speed, and manufacturers’ choice will be to get out of the way or climb on, because the third choice is to get steamrolled. But the industry does need to continue to educate manufacturers and workers on how and why this leads to better plants and products. The potential improvements in maintenance and energy management alone are enough to justify the investment.

But if manufacturers wait too long, their plant won’t have a chance to be considered a ‘Factory of the Future’. In an era when manufacturing is gaining respect and building strength despite the many challenges the industry faces, the laggards will be merely‘Factories of the Past’.

Bob Vavra, content manager at CFE Media, bvavra@cfemedia.com.



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
September 2018
2018 Engineering Leaders under 40, Women in Engineering, Six ways to reduce waste in manufacturing, and Four robot implementation challenges.
July/Aug
GAMS preview, 2018 Mid-Year Report, EAM and Safety
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
August 2018
SCADA standardization, capital expenditures, data-driven drilling and execution
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
August 2018
Choosing an automation controller, Lean manufacturing
September 2018
Effective process analytics; Four reasons why LTE networks are not IIoT ready

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Material Handling
This digital report explains how everything from conveyors and robots to automatic picking systems and digital orders have evolved to keep pace with the speed of change in the supply chain.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
Design of Safe and Reliable Hydraulic Systems for Subsea Applications
This eGuide explains how the operation of hydraulic systems for subsea applications requires the user to consider additional aspects because of the unique conditions that apply to the setting
click me