The notion of Industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing is a natural step of the ongoing “numerical convergence” with information technology (IT) on the one hand and operational technology (OT) on the other hand. It has appeared at the beginning of the 2010s. It has undergone incredible development since, so much so that the main question to this transition relies more on how industries will adapt instead of why.
Smart factory can be described today as a mix of technologies such as the Internet of Things, the digital twin, AI (Artificial intelligence), augmented reality, or Robotics. It can, however, be distinguished by four essential characteristics.
First of all, it is connected and data-driven. Smart factory relies on data and IIOT (Industrial Internet of Things connectivity) to facilitate adaptation and control over all the sites on every aspect of the operations in near real-time and with virtual automation. With the Internet of Things, firms can think and react independently as their exploitation, maintenance, and innovation have become proactive. Machines rely on reliable real-time informatics and connectivity, and they are equipped with sensors and interoperable open systems. All products, raw materials, equipment, hardware, and monitoring systems have sufficient potential to collect and share data. This latter can be analyzed in their context and in real-time to deliver workers usable information about machinery health monitoring, manufacturing process, and the state of the output.
Smart factory also functions as autonomous and self-managed system of systems, in other words, as a network of individually interconnected systems, each of which has a high degree of flexibility, efficiency, and autonomy. Eventually, firms will be similar to a vast system, including hundreds of subsystems operating independently, but turned towards the same goal. Each system and subsystem in the firm will use AI (Artificial Intelligence), machine vision, deep learning, and edge analytics to control and communicate with everything that factory floors encompass, whether it is about factory production, maintenance, its supply chain, or security.
Smart factory can also be described as a collaborative human-machine hub as it involves humans, machines, and production systems altogether. It reduces human presence on factory floors: in return, they are helped by collaborative robots (“cobots”) for carrying out complex tasks, whereas robots have to perform repetitive tasks that are generally harmful to humans.
Smart factory is, at last, a system that shows the capacity for adaptation as it enables manufacturers to extend and develop applications as well as improve IIOT value to accompany the evolution of entrepreneurial strategies. This is, for example, the strategy developed by ALTEN, a French consultancy company created in 1988, which tackles technological challenges of the Industry 4.0 transformation. According to François Portier, program research Smart Factory 4.0 director for the company, “the more it is triggered at an early stage, the more transformation will be effective in the factory. The hardest part is to get down to it and ensure the change will take place”. That is why ALTEN bets on new technologies’ adaptation to what is existing to avoid investing large amounts and facilitate a progressive appropriation: “Step by step, we are moving forward; at the beginning, on a defined perimeter which enables to measure the impact and gains earned before broadening this perimeter gradually.” Artificial Intelligence and deep learning create numerical patterns, which are increasingly detailed, accurate and relevant, both for equipment and processes, which in turn facilitates decision making and planification. The latter becomes, as a result, more focused on data. The consequence is that devices react to events at a higher cognitive level and get smarter as time goes by. Production monitoring becomes more autonomous, and new entrepreneurial approaches emerge.
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