HomeBuildingsSoftware AG on 2021: The year the smart factory gets real – and four reasons why

Software AG on 2021: The year the smart factory gets real – and four reasons why

The bar for digitally enabled manufacturing services keeps rising and will be boosted by the investments made during 2020. While companies race to innovate, it is important to remember that in 2021, investing in resilience-building and data-driven technology that will arm an organization for the long-term will be more important than implementing quick, temporary solutions that might put a bandage on a mounting problem.

Sean Riley – ‘smart factory’ is a buzzword, but a buzzword for a reason

As manufacturing leaders digest new challenges – such as choppy demand, broken supply chains and urgent changes to work safety environments – they will be forced to reassess their operations and business models. The obvious solution is digital transformation and the concept of the “smart factory”.

This is one of the most overused buzzwords, but for good reason. The smart factory is an endpoint many have added to their list of goals in 2021. As customer demand for products worldwide has increased and been transformed, leaders will be looking for ways to achieve operational excellence.

These are the key trends that will help bring the smart factory to life in 2021.

1| Convergence of data

A successful smart factory can enable organizations to aggregate big data covering production, energy costs and materials for sharing with partner companies in capacity planning, but only if they have access and visibility into their data. In 2021, companies will take advantage of previously unused data in order to create faster response times between partners to disruption events; and allow for unprecedented visibility in interdependent processes throughout the chain.

The potential to become a data-driven or a ‘smart’ plant is already in place, as manufacturing companies have vast amounts of data available to them via sensors on their sites. To move ahead, manufacturers must take advantage of this data by accessing equipment and sensor data easily and in real time.

2 | Distribution of analytics 

There will be a different approach towards analytics this year as companies define operational efficiency use cases based on desired business outcomes, rather than implementing a library of tools first. The old adage, “rules before tools” rings true again. One of the reasons for following this mantra is understanding who needs to use (usually engineers and not data scientists) and create the condition-monitoring and predictive analytics (usually a job relegated to IT and data scientists).

Data-driven organizations understand this conundrum, and when selecting tools, will focus on empowering individual departments or teams with specific expertise to utilize analytics directly, without depending on data scientists. This self-service approach to industrial analytics will enable smart factories to avoid the delays and costs of data science projects, achieve higher ROI and accelerate time-to-value and time-to-impact of projects.

3 | Industrial IoT investments

This year, companies will invest more heavily in industrial IoT solutions as they realize key benefits, like empowering manufacturers to operate smarter through connected assets, predictive maintenance, real-time data analytics and monitoring to keep agile, informed and in control. In 2021, factories will pair predictive analytics with industrial IoT solutions to reduce downtime by anticipating maintenance needs. 

As a result, we’ll likely see a definite increase in customer lifetime value and first-call repair rates on a platform for usage- or outcome-based services. Companies will also create a “digital twin” – a digital representation of a physical asses – to remotely monitor a machine’s status at any time. Ultimately manufacturers will be able to quickly identify bottlenecks and generate improved processes.

4 | Focus on employee safety

While employee safety has always been an important priority, Covid-19 accelerated demand for sensible technology enabled solutions. In 2021, we’ll see companies implementing smart social distancing solutions on their factory floors, using smart badges to alert managers if employees or customers approach the limit of safe social distancing protocols.

From a personal perspective, I’ve seen this in practice as my teams have implemented their experience in the industrial IoT combined with industry knowledge of our partners to help organizations implement these solutions in factories. In time, companies will be able to help workers protect themselves while maintaining a productive and efficient delivery schedule.

While most manufacturers have recovered from the initial economic shock of Covid-19, the industry is still learning to operate in an uncertain, remote environment. It is time now to take advantage of digital investments to affect positive outcomes for customers, employees and partners in the coming year. Manufacturers will continue to invest in connected quality management systems and industrial IoT, and become champions of data-driven initiatives.

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