There are definitely a few buzz phrases about the “Factory of the Future” around at the moment, but there is no definitive statement on what the terms “Smart Factory”, “Industry/Factory 4.0”, and “Digital Twin/Shadow” mean and how they are related. In fact, could they all be different terms for largely the same thing?
Just a few years ago anything that was given the suffix 2.0 denoted a superior or more advanced version of an original concept, but that’s just so 20th century. We seemed to have skipped 3.0 and moved to 4.0 of everything, and 5.0 will probably get here before we’ve worked out what the 4.0 version was meant to include. Nevertheless, I’m going to write something about what a “Smart Model” means, hoping that the next version of Smart won’t overtake me.
I think a Smart Factory could be defined like this:
A manufacturing process which includes the complete and seamless integration of the physical production equipment, sensors, data, artificial intelligence, external data & influences, and the supply- and demand-chain…without needing human intervention to operate.
We could then expect a Smart Factory to automatically optimise itself though self-assessment, self-optimisation self-repair/healing, and self-learning/improvement.
I’m not sure a Smart Factory like this truly exists at scale.
But every day (sometimes more than once a day) many of us find that we can get exactly what we want within minutes of discovering we wanted it, simply by clicking a few times on a web site. This starts a highly integrated process that includes warehouse operations, re-stocking, packaging, logistics, delivery and, of course, payment. We are getting so used to it that it’s easy to forget that companies like Amazon have disrupted their sectors. Now Amazon is turning its mind and considerable resources towards production – it already has a patent for clothing-on-demand and has invested in pre-fabricated house building – so you can be sure that bigger manufacturing operations are in its sights.
Today’s manufacturers need to be investing in their production facilities to make them “smart”, but a complete transformation of operations is more of a journey rather than a destination. Whilst you may not be able to create a Smart Factory now, you can create a Smart Model which I’d like to define as:
A Digital Twin with the capabilities to predict multiple alternative futures, not just display the present and replay the past.
In my definition, a Smart Model is:
- Highly detailed – so it is less reliant on simplification and assumptions
- Comprehensive – because it includes all processes and resources that affects operations
- Realistic – because equipment capabilities and business rules in the model are kept in sync with changes on the shop floor
- Accurate – because it is driven by up-to-date data extracted from shop-floor sensors
- Fast – so that multiple ideas – 1,000s – can be examined and compared quickly, to keep up with the business decision-making process
- Flexible – so that new processes, resources and assumptions can be introduced
Building a Smart Model is definitely a smart move – the next step on your journey to create a Smart Factory.