A smarter approach to the smart factory

Posted on 11 Oct 2018 by The Manufacturer

Automation is all, we are told – it is the future! But the law of diminishing returns can apply, even more so if you ignore the opportunities that lie beyond the production line. Nick Heath reports.

Cobots Robots Automation Robot Robotics Assembly Line
Has the automation spotlight focused too heavily on the production line?

The quest for automation on the factory floor is nothing new. Cutting-edge organisations such as Tesla have already implemented an end-to-end factory assembly that is almost entirely operated by robots. But it is not without its challenges.

Many of the problems Elon Musk has with his production line are because he over-automated, according to some critics. Simply put, he didn’t work out the best use of automation, he just applied it to everything, and it backfired.

How much is enough?

In 2015, ‘…478 billion of the 749 billion working hours (64%) spent on manufacturing-related activities globally were automatable…’ according to research by McKinsey.

While that figure is a long way short of what Elon Musk, to his cost, imagined was possible, it has almost certainly increased in line with technology’s advance.

Yes, there is an inevitable impact on human jobs, but alongside the real value automation offers to businesses, it also enables the workforce to focus on higher-value tasks.

This article first appeared in the October issue of The Manufacturer magazine. To subscribe, please click here.

At Bluefin, we talk about this as the ‘Automated Enterprise’. But, how do we know which parts of our processes to automate?

For too long, the spotlight has focused too heavily on the production line while ignoring the potential for automation of back office systems – the marketing, HR and finance systems that support growth.

By connecting them you can automatically feed valuable, productivity-enhancing information back to the production line.

Automation Smart Factory Digital Transformation Connected Value Chain - Stock
It can take a good deal of planning and evaluation to start connecting back office systems to production systems.

At its simplest, integration of back-end systems with production enables profit-driving activity such as:

  • Financial systems that intelligently predict future production volumes and order components in the quantities that reduce the cost per unit
  • A system that responds to changes in the weather to slow down and speed up production for optimum efficiency
  • A production line that automatically responds to trade promotions being advertised through the marketing platform
  • Connecting the business with supply-chain partners and customers to increase collaboration and productivity.

Really smart factories are already doing this. However, implementing it poses challenges, particularly if back office systems have been left on their own for too long, as it takes a deal of planning and evaluation to start connecting them to production systems, thereby creating a seamlessly efficient Automated Enterprise.

However, the power of the cloud and enabling technologies are such that this process of change has been radically eased and accelerated. All it takes is a change in mindset.

To watch a video of what the Automated Enterprise can do, click here.

Nick Heath – Senior Director of Manufacturing & Automotive | Bluefin  – www.bluefinsolutions.com

Why you should attend Smart Factory Expo 2018

Digital Manufacturing Week - The Manufacturer Smart Factory Expo 2017 - image courtesy of The ManufacturerTwelve elements combine to make Smart Factory Expo Europe’s largest digital manufacturing show:

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