How will the notion of the "smart factory" evolve in 2021?


Smart factory. 

The coronavirus crisis has reminded us all of the often invisible powers of manufacturers and logistics companies to get things done.

Indeed, remember all the panic buying of toilet paper; and pasta and the shortage of personal protective equipment at the beginning of the crisis? 

Well, the goods were mostly produced and delivered. The lights stayed on.

But behind the scenes, processes designed over the years to drive operational cost control in plants; efficiency and predictability have been supplemented and sometimes even replaced by those that emphasize flexibility and resilience.

So by 2021, the current crisis will accelerate the digital transformation efforts already underway in manufacturing and there will be much more talk of the smart factory. 

Thus, this will drive the shift from the underlying core systems of linear efficiency and cost-driven transactions to a continuous interaction focused on efficiency and customer value. So, what are some of the highlights we can expect from smart manufacturing?

Increased flexibility and resilience in the plant

First, manufacturing ecosystems will promote flexibility and resilience. 

For example, in 2021; most major manufacturers will re-evaluate their supply chain systems and processes against the goals of greater resilience and flexibility.

This is because they will regularly share data on supplier and carrier performance and make faster decisions; on the ecosystem relationships they need to get in or out. As such, they will move many of these systems into the cloud to manage operations from anywhere with anyone; and thus elevate the collaboration of these systems within a broader partnership ecosystem.

The growth of emerging technology

Emerging technology will act as a catalyst for change. 

The pandemic has shown how emerging technologies such as augmented reality and additive manufacturing (3D printing;) can help in an emergency; but now manufacturers are determining where they can generate sustainable value and thus change the way their organizations operate.

So, engineers guided customers through remote maintenance tasks; as travel restrictions limited their ability to assist in person. The need for rapid response to the pandemic removed many barriers to adoption.

Increased skills will be essential

Improving human skills will be a key success factor. Despite continued automation within manufacturing organizations; talent shortages have become a major issue, especially in China and India.

Already, the manufacturing processes of advanced AI and automation technologies are expanding from physical; repetitive tasks to knowledge territory.

In 2021, manufacturing companies will invest heavily in technologies such as unstructured content analysis; digital worker analysis; knowledge management solutions, industrial knowledge graphs and reinforcement learning.

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Author: NAJI Faouzi