There are multiple challenges in establishing smart factories.
Firstly, there are many aspects of smart factories; smart equipment, seamlessly integrated systems, tight integration between equipment and systems, automation, robots, advanced analytics, and so on. It is a challenge to fit all these moving parts into a coherent solution.
Secondly, not all plants may need all of them. It is important to know which ones are best for a given plant.
Thirdly, in most cases it is not necessary, and at the same time it may not be feasible, to implement them all at once. It should be divided into several phases. Throughout the whole process, we must be convinced of the ROI.
Smart Factory, by definition, sounds like any other integrated system. However, creating a smart factory involves a high level of complexity. It is usually a multi-phase and multi-year effort.
The question is, what is a smart factory?
It is an optimised plant, scalable enough to meet the variation in demand for existing products, capable of producing finished products at the lowest cost.
It has smart machines, sensors and robots that integrate seamlessly with the information system architecture to enable a high level of automation in transaction processing.
And it has real-time analytics that help minimise downtime and improve efficiency.
What general approach can be taken when building a smart factory?
Always start by building a solid foundation with ERP and MES. Later we complete it with seamless and automated integration between the core components (PLM-ERP-MES-Quality).
Automation with PLC and Robot integration would be the next step. The IoT platform collects relevant information from all layers, performs real-time analysis and enables machine learning.
1.Basic building blocks
a.ERP, MES, PLM, Quality
a.PLM-ERP, ERP-MES, PLC-OPC UA-MES
4.Real Time Data Analysis:
a.IoT, Machine Learning.
Automation: “smart machines”.
Smart” machines are not necessarily equipped with machine algorithms, but have sensors that can capture various data and have an industry-standard PLC attached.
Build integration between PLC and MES through the OPC UA layer so that most transactions are recorded automatically. Integrate additional readers/sensors with PLCs to completely eliminate manual transactions wherever possible. Use and adopt mobile devices (handheld devices) in the plant.
Identify process steps that can be performed by Robots. Once robots can perform these tasks, we can deploy operators for those process steps on new lines or in other areas of the plant, such as the warehouse. This will also help to reduce defects. The approach for this phase was to introduce Robots gradually (phased within this phase). This involves selecting suppliers to provide “smart” equipment, primarily driven by the industrial engineering team, not office equipment. Select the middle layer between PLC and MES.
Additionally there should be a strong focus on user training and change management to ensure that users are ready to interact with a highly automated ecosystem.
Other points to consider.
Networking. Redesign the network architecture to assign IP addresses to all devices, line terminals, scanners, etc. in a methodical manner. To improve troubleshooting, switches should be reconfigured to adapt to specific lines, also the main switch to handle increased network traffic due to smart machines.
Security. Along with Firewall, install a PAN to further strengthen security. Ensure that all equipment providers have VPN access to all machines for troubleshooting. This is a critical step to ensure that problems are resolved in a timely manner.
So what is it?
A smart factory is an interaction between plant hardware and software. The greatest value comes from automating processes to collect data as accurately as possible and in real time.
The road to a Smart Factory is a fairly long journey fraught with challenges.
It requires executive sponsorship and the building of a strong cross-functional team. This team must constantly collaborate with each other, selecting the right products and platforms, selecting IT/OT partners with the required capabilities and paying close attention to learning from each phase.
Last but not least, “patience”, we must constantly improve to remain competitive.