Creating Smart Factories with Automation and Integration 

As more manufacturers take steps toward Industry 4.0 and the smart factory revolution, the addition of automation and robotics is a major focus; however, many don’t realize that connectivity solutions provide the fundamental foundation needed to reap the benefits of these tightly integrated manufacturing systems. This blog will explore the basics and advantages of smart factories and how integration enables different platforms to work together in a way that encourages the highest levels of efficiency. 

automation and smart manufacturing

The Smart Factory Defined

The terms “smart factory” and “Industry 4.0” refer to industrial facilities that are equipped with integrated technologies such as advanced sensors, embedded software and automated and/or robotic equipment, which are tightly integrated with digital technologies – such as Internet of Things (IoT)-enabled devices and gateways, cloud computing, analytics and machine learning – to provide real-time data and information about the production equipment. 

This type of digitalization allows operators and techs to make informed and proactive decisions regarding maintenance activities, production schedules, energy usage, equipment availability and more so that productivity is enhanced, efficiencies are gained, quality is improved and unnecessary costs are curtailed. Manufacturers who implement smart factory technologies often find that they have greater levels of throughput, significantly less downtime, better quality control and enhanced flexibility and agility. 

Specifically, embracing Industry 4.0 technologies results in the following benefits: 

  • Greater efficiency: Analyzing data collected from smart sensors and automated equipment helps plant operators identify bottlenecks or other inefficiencies so they may take corrective actions to allow more effective use of production equipment. In addition, connected sensors can send alerts regarding events, process disruptions or production upsets so operators can use controls to quickly, in real time, return the operations to the optimal state, increasing throughput and reducing waste. Smart factories with visibility into operations often have increased operational efficiency, uptime, throughput and product quality. 
  • Proactive maintenance: Data collected from connected sensors, automation and controls supports the transition from reactive maintenance to proactive maintenance by providing visibility into the health of production equipment so that maintenance techs can make informed decisions about maintenance requirements before failure occurs. This not only reduces the cost and wasted time that result from downtime, but also permits optimal use of production equipment to enhance productivity. 
  • Reduced utility bills: Smart sensors and intelligent control panel components can provide data about utility usage, which can be tracked so that plant operators can determine whether electricity, steam and compressed air are being used wisely or wastefully, which can help reduce these costs. Monitoring this data can also provide visibility into power surges or other utility events so they can be addressed before they damage equipment or create hazards. 
  • Enhanced product quality: Smart automation and robotics can be used to inspect products and packages with more speed and accuracy than manual inspectors, preventing sub-par products and packages from reaching consumers. Collected inspection data can be analyzed to identify the root cause of faulty or defective products, preventing recurring issues and reducing costs associated with waste, scrap and re-work. 

Integration for Visibility and Better Decision Making 

Automation and robotics provide the muscle that keeps the smart factory moving at optimal levels of productivity. Experienced distributors of automated equipment, such as JHFOSTER, can help manufacturers select and deploy efficiency-enhancing equipment on the manufacturing floor. 

However, to be a truly smart factory that reaps the advantages of Industry 4.0 technologies, connectivity of disparate automated and robotic systems are crucial as integration is what allows plant operators to receive the real-time data and visibility into equipment and overall operations needed to take advantage of all that smart factories have to offer. Fortunately, JHFOSTER’s Celco Integration Services bring the entire automation system together, enabling different platforms to work together and communicate. Celco’s integration experts collect real-time information across multiple processes and automation equipment and consolidate the data into usable information that drives tactical and strategic decision making so that plant operators can optimize efficiency and throughput, increase quality and reduce costs. 

Celco’s integration services can assist with the development, integration and commissioning of PLC controllers from multiple equipment vendors into a single SCADA system. Connected SCADA functionality allows connected systems to be monitored so that key operational metrics and equipment status can be displayed for viewing by operating personnel, allowing them the visibility to make timely, informed and proactive decisions that benefit and optimize plant performance. 

Integrating advanced automation systems to create a smart factory provides opportunities for increasing efficiency, productivity and product quality, while reducing costs associated with waste, scrap, rework and unnecessary utility usage. But, in order to fully embrace Industry 4.0 and its advantages, working with an experienced distributor to find the most appropriate automation systems and an integrator that has the knowledge to connect all the pieces are essential to success. While introducing Industry 4.0 technology to your facility may seem complicated, Celco, a JHFOSTER division are ready to explain the process and assist with implementation and integration.