25 June, 2024

The shifting vision of a smart factory

18 April, 2024

Mark Clemens, Connectivity Architect and Security Strategist at COPA-DATA, explains the shifting vision of a smart factory.


Today, our understanding of the “Smart Factory” is unequivocally linked with deep learning and AI. This is very different to our understanding of the concept fifteen years ago, when the first visions of the Smart Factory of the future emerged. What became of these early visions? And where are we today?

We lack a globally accepted definition of “Smart Factory”. Further, what we label as “the factory of the future” today is likely to be different to the concept 10 years from now. And this shifting definition is but one complication. The term also implies an end state which, once reached, provides no further room for improvement. Surely the Smart Factory built 10 years ago has become smarter since? Likely, it’s seen improvements due to further investment and by making better use of available information. I, therefore, prefer the term “Smarter Factory”.

The goal of a Smarter Factory is achievable in small steps, with the chance to learn while doing. A Smarter Factory approach can also be applied to existing factories – whether there is already technology, automation, and data collection in place or not. While one can debate the argument, I think that making an existing factory smarter is much more easily The shifting vision of a smart factory achievable than building a new Smart(er) Factory from the ground up.

But where to begin?

It definitely makes sense to define a Smarter Factory strategy from which small achievable goals can be derived. This allows for an iterative, agile approach. Many topics can be worked on in parallel, rather than starting one big project for which the benefits may be hidden from the business for a long time. It is key to get people involved from different domains from the very beginning, especially when improvements could make some job roles superfluous. The involvement and outlook of different roles in an agile process provides future perspective and reduces the risk of efforts being sabotaged.

Let’s take one example where there are quick wins to be had: a company thinking about net zero and how to move from fossil fuels to electrification. One challenge is the grid connection which cannot quickly be upgraded to the necessary capacity by the electricity provider. Not doing anything is not an option. Local generation, in combination with storage, could be a viable option if you know what your energy consumption looks like and where peaks can be shaved. Such an effort fits into a Smarter Factory strategy and it starts with information that may not be readily available from everywhere.

Make smarter use of existing information

Rather than installing energy meters at every piece of equipment, interrupting production processes, the energy consumption of a




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