What is a connected factory?
A connected factory is a manufacturing facility that uses digital technology to allow seamless sharing of information between people, machines, and sensors.
There are two main goals to enabling connectivity in a plant or factory. The first is to reach an ideal state of sustained productivity, self-correction, and quality. This leads to higher profitability.
The second is perhaps less obvious.
The other goal of the connected factory is to empower workers on the shop floor. The combination of control, visibility, and flexibility offered by new digital solutions make it possible for manufacturing workers to make more creative, impactful improvements.
A view of the connected factory in everyday life
On a human level, there are parallels in our everyday lives. Chances are, you own, or are wearing a connected device like a Fitbit or Apple Watch.
That “smart” fitness tracker gives you greater visibility and control over your personal lifestyle by providing real-time data about your activity. Quite possibly, this deeper level of performance metrics spurred you to make changes to your daily fitness habits (have you opted to take the stairs over elevator or escalator recently?).
The adoption of digital, connected practices and new technologies is part of applying the same mentality to manufacturing.
Shop floors now routinely include sensors, machine monitoring, and other digital tools and platforms. By bringing the same level of digital curiosity and savvy to our work life as we do to our private life, manufacturers can unlock new levels of efficiency and transparency in their operations.
Constituent Technologies and Innovations of a Connected Ecosystem
Connected factories are the realization of Industry 4.0, IIoT, and Big Data practices – a holistic update to manufacturing that includes changes to management principles, physical changes (automation, robotics), and data and analytics frameworks that inform business practices and innovation.
It is not a prescribed organizational blueprint or guide; every connected factory is and will be different and should be based on the criteria of that factory/business.
Smart or connected manufacturing encompasses digital technologies like:
- Big Data Analytics
- Artificial Intelligence
- Advanced Robotics
- 3D printing
- Cloud Computing
A smart or “connected factory” is one in which almost all aspects of the factory ecosystem are highly visible and available for analysis. Utilizing the data and updated, digital processes and tools enables the entire organization, from management to the shop floor worker, to evolve to a new level of sophistication, efficiency, and profitability.
Connectivity Transforms Manufacturing Work
Connecting a smart factory goes beyond deploying automated assembly lines or having robots work alongside shop floor workers, though.
Fundamentally, factory connectivity is about better integrating and empowering humans on the shop floor.
In this newest phase of the industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, manufacturing processes are linked and scaled in such a way that machines, devices, sensors, and workers are fully networked.
For one, it enables engineers to understand their operations from a holistic perspective. Machine autonomy and collaborative digital infrastructure enable workers to step back from being on the shop floor to monitor production and supply chains remotely.
In addition, engineers can predict and solve problems specific to their lines by designing and deploying custom applications.
All of this leads to greater efficiency and scalability for manufacturing.
Curious how Tulip can help make your factory a connected factory? Get in touch for a free demo.