Smart factory: A new frontier for the manufacturing industry

The business world has seen a lot of revolution since 1760. It has come so far now that manufacturers have started combining the physical production processes with digital technology, smart computing, and big data. This amalgamation of technologies is increasingly helping companies to create their revenue sources from manufacturing and supply chain management.

The data revolution helps factories evolve and rethink their automation strategies and workforce. In this article, we will be covering the importance, benefits, and challenges of the smart factory. Also, we will help you understand how to implement it and garner more revenue.

Money, ease of use, and integrated system architecture

integrated system architecture

The prognosis for worldwide spending on IoT by 2023 was 1.1 trillion U.S. dollars, as estimated in 2019. Region-wise, the Asia Pacific region held the largest share of the IoT market. North America came in second, followed by Europe, Middle East and Africa. - Statista

To give you a quick overview, Smart Factory is a digitized system that continuously collects and shares crucial data via connected machines, smart devices, and production units. The collected data is then utilized by self-optimizing devices for:

  1. Discovering and countering various issues 
  2. Improving the manufacturing processes 
  3. Gauge various demand parameters 

A smart factory is primarily used in manufacturing companies by implementing modern technologies like robotics, artificial intelligence, big data analytics, cloud computing, and industrial IoT (Internet of Things).

These technologies have made their contribution felt in mainstream smart manufacturing practices because they can run autonomously coupled with the capability to self-correct. Being an important outcome of the fourth industrial revolution, popularly termed Industry 4.0, it is the factory of the future that is still in its early days. 

Once implemented, manufacturers can utilize cloud technology for storing and accessing vast data pools for operating and maintaining manufacturing applications within their factory or across their supply chain.

A brief contribution of Factory 4.0

contribution of Factory 4.0

Smart factory, as explained earlier, is the result of a new phase in the industrial revolution. In this phase, factories are evolving by heavily focusing on:

  1. Gathering real-time data
  2. Embedded sensors 
  3. Connectivity automation 
  4. Machine learning

The structure of a smart factory includes production, information, and communication technologies. These individual structures can be integrated across the entire manufacturing supply chain. Manufacturers can integrate these disparate parts using IoT and various other advanced integrated circuits.

These circuits can enable sensing, measurement, control, and communication of connected devices involved in the manufacturing process. 

Smart factory denotes a leap forward from more traditional automation to an infrastructure that comprises a completely connected and flexible system of smart devices.

These devices utilize a constant stream of data via connected operations and production systems that learn on their own, automatically adapting as per demand dynamics.

A true smart factory will integrate data from system-wide assets and help manufacturers maintain their equipment, track the inventory, digitize their operations via their digital twin. The outcome of this integrated architecture is:

  1. A more efficient and agile system 
  2. Less production downtime 
  3. Broader network
  4. Ability to predict and adjust to changes in the facility 

The cumulative result of all these factors will also enable manufacturers to position their products in a more competitive manner.


Technologies and processes that bring automation to the smart factory

automation to the smart factory

Modern manufacturers are embracing automation completely, or they are automating part of their processes. They might have tools necessary for automating various elements of their supply chain, such as:

  1. In-line production machinery
  2. Barcode scanners 
  3. Drones for helping with pick-up and drop 

They might also automate their entire production line so that the products can be moved through various phases of the manufacturing process using robotics.

However, the majority of these individuals, yet automated processes, are disconnected from each other. This disconnected environment results in more human involvement where the workers are engaged in continuous analysis of disparate data sets and various reports for creating more efficiency.

In the future, with the help of smart factories, manufacturers will be able to seamlessly optimize data and process workflows across their processes, from production lines to shops and sales offices.

What this recent pandemic showed businesses worldwide is that if the production assembly is halted for even one day, they are bound to incur millions in losses.

If we take a look at the smart factory revolution from an ergonomic, economic, and environmental point of view, they are sure to help manufacturers strive towards complete digital transformation.

Smart factories are the best option for manufacturers with the idea to capture and store the data of their entire product life cycle. Their basic goal is to create a manufacturing process that swiftly responds to the rapid changes in demand without incurring high costs. 

Also, with the help of smart manufacturing, enterprises can have access to the stored information whenever and wherever it is needed. 

Let's talk about technologies here.   

Internet of Things

Flexible IoT-enabled infrastructure connects machines and technologies with sensors and other information technologies. When talking about the global manufacturing market, marketresearch.com suggests IoT is anticipated to grow at a Compound Annual Growth Rate (CAGR) of 29% during the forecast period. In other words, it can grow from USD 12.67 billion (2017) to USD 45.30 billion (2022).  

Artificial Intelligence 

AI is the simulation of human intelligence processes by machines, especially computer systems? These processes include machine learning (the acquisition of information and rules for using the information), reasoning (using rules to reach approximate or definite conclusions), and self-correction. It uses algorithms to analyze data.  

Robotics and automation

Gone are those days when manufacturers invest in manually operated machines. Now, self-operating machines and robots are being used to minimize human intervention and improve efficiency and lead times.   

Digital twins

A digital twin is a virtual representation of a product. It can be used in product design, simulation, monitoring, optimization, and servicing and is an important concept in the industrial Internet of Things. It is a model that is retained for later stages of the product's lifecycle, such as inspection and maintenance.

Sensors connected to the physical product can collect data and send it back to the digital twin, and their interaction can help optimize the product's performance.

Wearable and mobile technology

Smart glasses, gloves, smartwatches, and other tracking items can be worn on the body comfortably and are used to track and manage operations in real-time, as well as provide virtual reality assistance.   

These technologies bring the systems together, integrate the data, and ensure that operations are performed in a hassle-free manner.  

Connection of smart factory with ERP 

A smart factory is an interconnected and highly advanced manufacturing process and production facility that makes data management, product management, and operations management streamlined and hassle-free. When ERP is implemented in a smart factory, we call it Intelligent ERP.

iERP (intelligent ERP) ties all the innovative technologies together to automate large-scale processes and expedite manufacturing execution time. It is a system of integration that uses all the evolving technologies to track end-to-end operations.

The common smart factories challenges

smart factories challenges

Now, let's take a look at the most common challenges that manufacturers face while implementing smart factories.

You need to look for a professional who has certain expertise in programmable logic to make smart manufacturing successful. You need to be sure that the product implemented in the factory assembly line works across and are made compliant within a controlled factory floor.

Having off-the-shelf components 

Be it the way the information flows and gets stored in the systems or is utilized in back-office virtualization.

For a successful implementation of your smart factory infrastructure, you need to look for vendors that can create full-custom designs that meet your industry's demands.

The quality and longevity of the connected devices you are going to include in this smart factory infrastructure play the most crucial role.

Complex supply chain 

A complex supply chain with too much dependency on legacy systems means that your factory assembly line will have more human involvement.

Simplifying the supply chain enables manufacturers to allocate their resources for engineering better products and services. Doing so allows the manufacturers to get to market quickly and gain faster ROI.

In order to create a simplified supply chain, manufacturers require a diverse set of solutions with multiple configurations that too with an expedited lead time. For manufacturers involved in global operation expansion, their supply chain must grow with the growing geographical reach.

The implementation of a smart factory will help companies gain detailed insight into their supply chain and be compliant with international regulations. They can also benefit from using unique codes to keep track of their production and distribution batches stored inside an easily accessible central data hub.

Compact lead times 

For capturing the customers' attention and garner success in this competitive environment, manufacturers must quickly meet consumer expectations. For having lesser lead times, manufacturers must maximize supply chain efficiency.

Manufacturers require tailored inventory programs that will enable faster delivery in just a few weeks, outperforming average industry lead times.

Doing so enables manufacturers to reduce their development costs. Such an implementation also allows manufacturers to plan their roadmap for end-of-life visibility for products and avoid unnecessary disruptions.

Long-term availability of said technology 

As a business owner with the decision-making authority over various resources, you want to make a beneficial investment that stays with you for a longer time. Having longevity of technology enables manufacturers to keep up the production for as long as possible, maximizing the value of their investment.

For this, you require the aid of a technologically sound digital product development partner that will easily guide you in terms of the longevity of various technologies that you require to be profitable.

Implementation of the smart factory for modern manufacturers

To move out of your legacy systems and scale up using smart factories might seem difficult and risky.

However, there are various benefits if you have modeled the perfect roadmap before diving into moving towards the modernization or digital transformation of your legacy production process.

  1. Successful implementation of the smart factory allows manufacturers to: 
  2. Derive better value at lower production cost 
  3. Increase product quality 
  4. Reduce the time to market 
  5. Higher sales growth 
  6. Greater market penetration
  7. Increased profitability 

For experiencing success with smart factory implementation, manufacturers must design their smart factory implementation with these guiding principles:

  1. Cultivate digital people 
  2. Introduce Agile processes 
  3. Configure modular technologies for production optimization 

Seamless integration and automation – The new frontier for smart manufacturing

Seamless integration and automation

The revolution towards the path of smart factories leads to a strong foundation for small and mid-sized manufacturers. By availing technologies like IoT, cloud computing, big data analytics, machine learning, and artificial intelligence manufacturers sector is shaping its future for unprecedented success.

These technologies allow manufacturers to have a lean manufacturing structure and help them realize more profits from little investments.

They have a streamlined production assembly line that enables manufacturers to improve their product quality and reduce cost. Let's talk about the benefits manufacturers can derive from smart factories.

1. Optimized production 

Establishing industrial IoT allows manufacturers to get their products off the production line at a faster rate. With the help of data analytics, they can process and understand all the data points spread across the product lifecycle and create a sleeker production cycle.

2. Smoother operation 

Industrial IoT enables manufacturers to get real-time data directly from the production floor and respond rapidly to the changes in the system. Data allows them to tweak their operations at will, such as changing the operational schedule and machine settings.

3. Better ROI 

With the faster transition to market due to higher productivity and greater efficiency, manufacturers can enjoy the due profits. Handling the industrial data in a more efficient manner helps manufacturers derive better opportunities. The smart factory promises faster reinvention and a better future for the manufacturers via:

  1. Deeper insights
  2. Slicker operations  
  3. Digital technologies 

4. World-class service 

By employing industrial IoT, manufacturers not only gain better insights into their production cycle but also can create a feedback loop for the daily use of the manufactured goods.

With the help of smart factory, businesses can:

  1. Raise the level of their maintenance 
  2. Offer wrap-around as-a-service packages 
  3. Get feedback into their original designs for product improvement, customer satisfaction, and enhance brand loyalty 

5. Room for innovation 

When manufacturers bring more efficiency to their production line by using well-managed industrial data, they create opportunities for faster innovation. 

They get an opportunity of reimaging and repurposing their products and services for the future based on the data they retrieve from product usage patterns and market demands.

6. Efficient asset management 

The advancements in modern sensor technologies are enabling manufacturing industries to generate high-volume data. This data is continuously analyzed for revealing assets performance issues in a timely fashion.

The unique advantage that smart factory provides to manufacturers is the deletion of human intervention for implementing a corrective course of action. In the future, businesses will be taking corrective measures by themselves by using predictive analytics and machine learning.

7. Deriving lower cost of production 

Smart manufacturing has provided enterprises with the opportunity to operate with lower inventory that lowers sourcing and supply costs. Material handling costs also experience a drastic dip which also decreases downtime and wastages.

With low-frequency sensors now entering the production facilities, businesses consume less energy and can forget about quality compromise.

8. Improving the quality 

As mentioned above, manufacturers can experience faster course correction with the help of smart factories with less human intervention. This same technology can also help them predict quality defects at a much earlier stage.

Such an intervention can greatly reduce scrapping rate and lead times, increasing the yield capacity of the manufacturing unit.

We have witnessed the genesis of smart factories, and the journey is ongoing. Enterprises will need to consult digital partners that have expertise in creating an environment that can establish connected devices, low-frequency sensors, and other IIoT technologies.

Doing so will help moving past the legacy infrastructure and move towards complete automation.  

Conclusion: How can modern manufacturers scale up with the help of smart factories? 

As per the data shared by the US Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition — a national alliance of manufacturing organizations, research universities, and government lab there are some impressive estimates on the economic benefits of smart manufacturing:

economic benefits of smart manufacturing

With the above chart, we can see that smart manufacturing is still in its infancy. Business owners and decision-makers will be requiring the help of experts that have made various sectors disrupt their legacy structure successfully.

Rapidops worked for a client to create a complete automation system for their invoicing, purchase order, and discount approval. We created a modular and scalable solution that helped the client minimize the last mile logistics delivery complexities with the help of intelligent automation and real-time GPS tracking.

They were able to cut down their operational costs with advanced algorithms, automated delivery notes, and real-time tracking. From the back office to the manufacturing plants, we allowed them to streamline their connected devices to cut costs and gain better ROIs.

If you want to discuss the roadmap for your smart factory infrastructure and move past the complexities of disparate systems, then do connect with us.


Saptarshi Das

9+ years of expertise in content marketing, SEO, and SERP research. Creates informative, engaging content to achieve marketing goals. Empathetic approach and deep understanding of target audience needs. Expert in SEO optimization for maximum visibility. Your ideal content marketing strategist.

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