A factory of the future to resolve today’s problems

19 July 2019

Alex West discusses the findings of a report that looks into the technologies that could help solve today’s manufacturing issues.

Anyone considering the ‘Factory of the Future’ should start by thinking of the challenges manufacturers face today. It’s an interesting time for manufacturing with technologies such as the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), additive manufacturing, digital twins, and other technologies which promise a revolution in products manufacturing. 

Success or failure of these technologies will depend on their ability to address the pain points manufacturers face today. Common industry challenges today include:

• Skills and people retention.
• Improving productivity and downtime.
• Worker safety.
• Flexibility and speed to market.
Will companies find use cases for these new technologies, or are we looking at the next technology looking for a problem to solve? In IHS Markit’s research of 500 industrial companies for its ‘Industrial IoT Intelligence Service’ report, respondents identified Internet of Things (IoT) applications that would benefit most from their organisation’s use of the cloud. Leading responses were predictive maintenance, asset tracking, condition monitoring, plant/factory control, resource planning, and maintenance planning.

Productivity and downtime
While there are many new technologies that could be introduced, cost remains king. A company’s ability to impact its bottom line will be central to any purchasing decision. These decisions are often based on a short payback window of less than a year, rather than total cost of ownership (TCO).

Machine and equipment failures can cost tens of thousands of dollars per minute because of unplanned downtime. There is also the cost of repairing the failed part, the damage caused to associated pieces of equipment, and the cost of getting emergency replacement parts, which all contribute to the final cost. 

Traditional preventive maintenance planning is limited and resources are inefficient in identifying potential equipment failure. Technologies able to reduce unplanned downtime can show a quick and tangible payback.

Less downtime
How can the factory of the future reduce unplanned downtime? By increasing access to data collected from machines and equipment, companies can monitor the characteristics of a machine’s performance based on the measurement of different parameters including vibration and temperature.

Applying analytics to asset health monitoring applications is one of the low-hanging fruits of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with the ability to see a quick payback on investment.

IHS Markit research also identified respondents’ primary objectives for using cloud-based analytics as to improve productivity (throughput), reduce downtime/production failure, and efficient maintenance/scheduling.

Faster ROI
Whether improving productivity, being more flexible to customer needs, or providing better working conditions, the technologies found in the factory of the future will succeed on their ability to meet specific challenges that will vary by industry and company type. 

With questions around how to monetise new solutions such as the IIoT, identifying those that show not just a clear business benefit, but also the ability to provide a quick return on investment (ROI), will be central in driving the move to the factory of the future. 

Alex West is an analyst with IHS Markit. 

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