Technology has become an integral part of our life as our daily activities are now technology-governed. Among the fields where technologies are applied and relied on is manufacturing. This application of smart technologies has given rise to a new concept, namely Smart Factory. Several years ago, Smart Factory was seen as an unachievable goal and that humans are thousands of years away from shifting from manual manufacturing into technological and smart manufacturing. Yet, the future is here as Smart Factory has become a reality and is no longer an abstract concept. Manufacturing has now entered a new phase as robots have become responsible for performing tasks that humans used to do in the past. So, what is Smart Factory, what are its benefits, and what is its impact on jobs and human roles?
What is Smart Factory? Basically, there is no conventional or an established definition of the concept as the answer depends on whom you ask. Yet, the concept or the term can be defined as an extremely digitalized and connected atmosphere wherever machinery and instrumentality are able to improve processes through automation and self-optimization. A Smart digitized workplace that incessantly collects and shares data through connected machines, devices, and production systems is another definition that describes the concept of Smart Factory.
Now that the meaning of this concept is clear, let us delve more into its details and understand its nature, and how its system works. Smart factory has a four-level data structure as each of them helps identify the status of the process. These four levels come as follow:
Available Data: This is the most common status of all factories as the data are available but not accessible . Sorting the data is time-consuming and wasting time is not good for business and considered the number one nemesis of factories alongside the high costs.
Accessible Data: The data at this phase is ready to be analysed because it is already organized and sorted. However, the factory still needs to invest a lot of time and put a lot of effort to carry out this task.
Active Data: at this stage where the human intervention is no longer needed. The machine takes over and starts identifying the problems and malfunctions.
Active-oriented: with little to no human intervention, the machines resolve the issues and anomalies that were already identified.
Now, the question that possibly preoccupies the readers is ‘what are the benefits of Smart factory and will it be any better than manual manufacturing?’. Well, Smart Factory is good news for factory owners and the industrial world in general as it consists in the dependence on machines in performing tasks which were delegated to humans. As a result, there will be a significant decrease in the time spent to carry out a task as well as a reduction in the cost. A case in point would be Harley-Davidson’s smart factory which, according to Dxc.Technology, has cut a 21day production by 6 hours and the costs by $200 million.
Yet, it is still believed that Smart Factory has more cons than pros. Maybe the replacement of humans by machines is the issue that is recurrent and which you have probably heard people discussing . It is actually the biggest fear of humans as they claim that this massive change in the industry will amount to loss of jobs as human force will no longer be needed and the robots will be performing the task human workers were assigned before. Indeed, machines will surely take over and do the tasks workers used to do. Nonetheless, these workers need to see the silver lining of the story as their status in factories will be upgraded and they will perform more complex jobs that the machines are unable to do.
Smart Factory then does not aim at getting rid of human force. In fact, Digital-skilled people will be needed in factories because, at the end of the day, machines will need human supervision. So, we are still far from the era where human force is completely pushed away.