The smart factory, which is literally a factory that can be considered intelligent, is at the heart of Industry 4.0 and was, or still is, considered the starting point of digitization.The smart factory is at the heart of Industry 4.0 and was, or still is, considered the starting point of digitization. On the way to the digital age of the Silicon Economy the term describes a production environment in which manufacturing plants and logistics systems organize themselves independently – automatically and autonomously. Machines, robots, materials and products are linked and communicate with each other via the Internet. At any time, it is possible to see in real-time where a component is located, which production step has been completed, and which process is currently being handled by which machine. The focus is on resource-saving and flexible production in which processes can be optimized down to the last detail.

The basis of the smart factory is the Internet of Things (IoT) with its cyber-physical and embedded systems and intelligent linking of machines and products (things). The idea is that the product itself has sensor, processor and radio technology (embedded systems) and transmits all data relevant to manufacturing to the production system via wireless communication. In this way, the embedded systems take over monitoring, control or regulation functions within the framework of the smart factory. Once the data has been transferred, the individual production steps are automatically controlled right through to the end product. By linking the production systems, the production processes can be designed flexibly. Individual products or small series can be produced in a cost-saving manner through automation. The term mass customization is often used in this context.

The operator stores the basic conditions in the system, such as article, production quantity and completion date, and the objectives, such as minimization of throughput time, maximization of delivery reliability, minimization of setup effort. The production environment then independently organizes the optimum production sequence and the allocation of production orders to the available resources. Beyond this, humans do not intervene further in the production process, but nevertheless take on a central role in the optimization and design of the smart factory. It is also possible for individual stations in production to consist of a team of humans and machines or humans and robots.

In addition to linking individual components within the Smart Factory, it is also possible to link across the supply chain with other Smart Factories or within the framework of the Platform Economy and new digital business models. The smart factory concept can increase delivery reliability, respond agilely to fluctuating market demands, reduce inventory costs, enable lower production costs and times, and lead to a transparent supply chain. The basic requirements are state-of-the-art and powerful IT systems and the use of IOT technology.

There are several ways to implement a smart factory. One promising concept is matrix production – standardized and categorized production cells arranged in a grid. The smart factory concept offers many new possibilities and opportunities for the industry, but it is also causing major disruption within companies. According to experts, the automotive, chemical, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering sectors in particular are currently facing this significant change.

If you are interested in Smart Factories and want to know more, our experts from the innovation ecosystem in Dortmund are always willing to help you. More