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#Connected Devices

The future of smart manufacturing

Expert Opinion
6 Mins.

The manufacturing industry has always been at the forefront of technological change. Think of the steam‐powered machines of the Industrial Revolution or the mass‐production processes developed by Henry Ford. Toward the end of the 20th century, manufacturers also added cutting‐edge industrial robots to the assembly line. And now, with the advent of smart factories, they’re pushing ahead with Industry 4.0

According to Capgemini’s recent “Smart Factories at Scale” report, organizations have an increasing appetite and aptitude for smart manufacturing, with nearly 70% of manufacturers pursuing smart‐factory initiatives. So will they achieve the results they desire – and what kind of challenges are they likely to face?

Predictive capabilities

When machinery fails in a traditional factory set‐up, repairs can disrupt production and drain time and money. But equipment that gives real-time data – fitted with vibration, temperature, or humidity internet of things (IoT) sensors capable of detecting anomalous behavior, connected through a secure 5G or the latest WLAN standards – can provide manufacturers with an early warning of potential issues. Smart analytics enables staff to schedule maintenance and repairs at a non‐disruptive time.

A 2019 joint study by Deloitte and the Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI) describes how one global auto‐parts manufacturer used inspection robots, force sensors, and other measurement devices to reduce unplanned factory downtime and ensure operations continuity. “The pilot program was then expanded to an entire production line in a US plant,” the report says. “Through this approach, the company was able to predict and prevent system failures, leading to a 100% reduction in manual inspection time.”

Increasing efficiency through the ability to anticipate problems and act promptly, rather than simply reacting to them after they occur, goes right to the heart of what smart manufacturing is all about.

Security and leadership challenges

A man and a woman walking through a smart factory holding a tablet
Equipment fitted with sensors capable of detecting anomalous behavior can provide an early warning of potential issues

The sheer number of connected devices in a smart factory can pose a significant security challenge for manufacturers. For example, the Capgemini report found that under 50% of organizations had adequate data availability and cybersecurity measures in place, although nearly a quarter of manufacturers had experienced a cyberattack in the last year.

Mapped entry and exit data points, improved network intrusion detection systems, and adherence to security‐by‐design principles can all help prevent data breaches. According to Duncan McFarlane, Professor in Industrial Information Engineering at Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering and head of the Distributed Information and Automation Laboratory within the Institute for Manufacturing, there is no single answer to security challenges: it depends on whether solutions are internal only and wired, internal only and wireless, or external and requiring access to networks beyond the factory. He explains: “There are some good solutions commercially available for more or less isolating manufacturing operations from the business network, and these add a significant degree of security to automation systems.”

This is also an area where the security expertise of companies like Giesecke+Devrient can support the new Factory 4.0 initiatives. According to Sharath Muddaiah, Director of 5G and IoT, G+D has developed simple, scalable solutions that allow data to be protected, enable authenticity and integrity of data, and provide what’s known as the digital twin for Factory 4.0, which makes new business models and data models possible in a smart factory. When there are multiple machines generating data with no human intervention, it is paramount that data generated is trusted, as this is the single source of business enablement in areas like automation and billing.

“G+D has developed simple, scalable solutions that allow data to be protected, enable authenticity and integrity of data, and provide what’s known as the digital twin for Factory 4.0“
Sharath Muddaiah
Director of 5G and IoT

Making sense of big data

The widespread rollout of 5G networks, which offer higher bandwidth and lower latency, should make it easier for manufacturers to implement reliable, real‐time applications that process large amounts of data generated by the factory sensors.

Some German manufacturers, for example, are even planning to implement their own private 5G campus networks. Take BASF, the German chemical company, which plans to use 5G to further digitalize its main production facility in Ludwigshafen, where there are already some 600,000 networked sensors and other control devices. This number of networking elements is expected to increase tenfold in future.

By merging physical and digital assets, manufacturers can easily see where there is unused capacity and make more efficient use of available resources. This can lead to faster time to market while making it easier to introduce new product lines and made‐to‐order or mass‐customization processes throughout the supply chain, potentially increasing market share. So where should manufacturers start the journey?

Scale of the challenge

“Typically, there is some digital infrastructure required to get started,” says McFarlane, “but we and others are working on simple, low‐cost, entry‐level digital solutions that can be initially deployed as a solution to address a single business need, with little or no upfront infrastructure.”

“Typically, there is some digital infrastructure required to get started, but we and others are working on simple, low-cost, entry-level digital solutions“
Duncan McFarlane
Professor in Industrial Information Engineering at Cambridge University’s Department of Engineering and head of the Distributed Information and Automation Laboratory within the Institute for Manufacturing

Organizations realize they have a massive task ahead in scaling their smart factory initiatives. Indeed, according to Capgemini’s report, many are already facing a battle to achieve their goals, with nearly 60% either saying their initiatives are struggling or that it’s too early to comment.

With this in mind, manufacturers shouldn’t expect to transition to a smart factory environment overnight. It’s a complicated and challenging process that requires concerted effort over many months and years, with potential use‐cases for sensors and connected technologies identified incrementally, piloted, and then rolled out more widely once they’ve proved their worth.

“Achieving the smart factory is a tall order and often can seem insurmountable for manufacturers grappling with how to transform their existing production assets into smart factories,” the Deloitte/MAPI study claims, concluding, “but it is a challenge worth pursuing.”

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