Making the smart factory a reality

Posted on 2 May 2024 by The Manufacturer

No other industry is poised to benefit more from digital transformation than manufacturing. But first, manufacturers must bridge the gaps between IT, operations, and customers — Part one of two.

Efficient, agile, and sustainable infrastructure is the foundation of digital transformation. It enables companies to innovate for growth and achieve environmental goals. But while other industries are already scaling their digital investments for future growth, many manufacturing firms are still at implementation stage.

It’s a challenging time for the sector. Firms are being pushed to focus on customer experience, optimize supply chains, make factory operations more efficient and somehow use less energy in the process. Complex workflows and processes magnify the pressure, while security concerns and a growing compliance burden threaten to distract from other priorities.

To address these issues and complete the shift from industrial to digital, manufacturers need to take full advantage of transformative technologies: artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality, autonomous devices, advanced 3D modelling and GPU as a service (GPUaaS).

Applied strategically they can reduce costs, uncover new opportunities, make firms more agile — and more sustainable. The key is to establish an IT foundation that frees these tools and platforms to deliver to their full potential.

Manufacturers are making the move to cloud-based systems

The market upheavals of the COVID and post-COVID era forced companies to weave together digital solutions that can be implemented quickly. Cloud solutions, by their nature, enable faster procurement and faster deployment than traditional IT.

A 2023 report from IDC shows that manufacturers are increasingly turning to cloud-based manufacturing applications to boost factory efficiency and management responsiveness. More than 70% of current investments in operations management and manufacturing execution systems are cloud-based.

Other investments in cloud-based manufacturing apps are also in the pipeline. These include established categories like asset management, sales planning, and environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG). Firms are also eager to benefit from large language models (LLMs) and generative AI, compute- and energy-intensive applications that also reside in the cloud.

Modernising with edge-to-cloud infrastructure

Deploying all these technologies requires a modern edge-to-cloud infrastructure, which recognizes that enterprise data isn’t confined to data centres. Manufacturing’s steady embrace of AI, IoT devices and data-hungry 3D modelling applications means more and more data is being generated at the edge. It’s then processed and stored by cloud applications that are used by an increasingly hybrid workforce, distributed around the globe.

An edge-to-cloud architecture sets the stage for near-zero latency in cloud applications, meaning data can flow seamlessly between devices at the edge, cloud applications, data centres and users in different work locations and environments. With this architecture, applications have the speed, responsiveness and stability users expect, which means customers, partners and employees can rely on an optimal experience. Improved experience is one of the reasons for 58% of manufacturers using edge-to-cloud solutions right now and another 30% planning to leverage edge-to-cloud in the next 18 months, according to IDC.

The smart factory gets smarter

With a modern cloud infrastructure in place, manufacturers can bring their smart factory objectives closer to reality. By taking full advantage of automation, monitoring, cybersecurity and analytics, they can make factory operations faster, more efficient, more adaptive, subject to fewer mechanical faults and more secure.

Consider the expanding use of digital twins: virtual replicas of complex products in production that enable real-time simulations and analysis. A modern cloud infrastructure facilitates the twin’s accelerated data processing needs, minimising latency and helping manufacturers make decisions faster.

AI is another area where edge-to-cloud becomes a key enabler. Smart factory AI systems learn and adapt from ongoing operations, thereby improving decision-making and anomaly detection. Drawing from IoT and other data sources at the edge, AI tools can make factory operations more sustainable, anticipating their energy, water and disposal needs while capturing the information needed for accurate and compliant ESG reporting.

This is part one of a two-part series from Dell and NTT DATA. In the next instalment we’ll delve into a smart factory success story where edge-to-cloud played a key role in delivering improved operation stability, efficiency and sustainability.

Want to learn more? Contact NTT DATA and one of our experts will be in touch.

Making the smart factory a reality

Tony Dickie is Vice President Alliances, Cloud Service Division, NTT DATA.

With over two decades’ experience in the IT industry, Tony excels in building, growing and leading successful vendor partnerships to achieve remarkable results for NTT DATA’s clients. Prior to NTT DATA, Tony held senior channel roles at data centre, IT and cybersecurity providers including Nominet, BlueLiv and Digital Realty.

Contact Tony on LinkedIn.

For more articles like this, visit our Digital Transformation channel.