A smart factory refers to a modern manufacturing facility with internet-connected machines, devices, and communications systems that collect and share data in real time. The idea of smart factories started becoming more popular in the late 1990s and early 2000s, thanks to the invention and fast adoption of the internet.
Today, smart factories are more advanced than ever before because of modern technologies, including artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cloud computing, and Internet of Things. Most of the tools and equipment used in smart factories come integrated with IoT devices to collect and capture data sent to central databases in the cloud.
This data is analyzed to offer manufacturers valuable insights they can use to make decisions. The data collected is also essential for optimizing and improving the efficiency of the different manufacturing processes in the long run.
Levels of smart factories
There are four major levels that manufacturing facilities go through on their journey to becoming state-of-the-art smart factories. These levels include;
1. Basic Data availability
At this level, the factory is not smart or automated. However, some data is being collected from the equipment, either manually or using digital tools. Analyzing this data is done manually by humans, which is time-consuming and prone to errors.
2. Proactive data analysis
At this level, data from the equipment and factory can easily be accessed and collected. Collection and analysis of data at this level are done in a more structured way when compared to the previous level. There is also a central database where data is stored and analyzed from. However, there is still some human effort involved in collecting and analyzing data.
3. Active Data
At this level, data is seamlessly collected from the factory and sent to a central database in the cloud. Data analysis at this level is done with the assistance of machine learning and artificial intelligence, creating valuable insights without much human intervention. Factories at this level are more automated, and their systems can detect or predict critical issues or anomalies to proactively determine the chances of equipment failure.
4. Oriented Data
Smart factories at this level are almost entirely autonomous, and most of the decisions taken by humans and machines are data-driven. This is a more advanced level than level three, so there is little to no human intervention in most of the factory operations.
Core technologies enabling smart factories
Industrial Internet of Things (IoT)
Industrial IoT enables the interconnections of various equipment and devices in the factory to allow seamless data sharing.
Data collected by IoT devices on the equipment is sent to a centralized database. The power and scalability of cloud computing make it easier and cheaper for manufacturers to analyze this data in the cloud other than using a local server.
Big Data Analytics
This enables real-time data analysis to give manufacturers important insights about their factories.
Artificial intelligence and machine learning
Automation in smart factories is made possible by AI and machine learning, enabling machines to make decisions without human intervention.