2021 Trend Almanac: Technologies and trends that will dominate the business and consumer landscape. Get instant access
The term Connected Factory refers to a manufacturing facility that utilizes digital technology to enable seamless information sharing between people, sensors, and machines. The benefits of this include sustainable quality, productivity, and self-correction, which ultimately leads to increased profitability. Connected factories also empower shop floor workers, as the control, visibility, and flexibility available with innovative digital solutions can enable workers to develop more creative and impactful manufacturing processes.
Adapting digital, connected practices and technologies to manufacturing applies a similar mentality to that of smart fitness trackers. These connected devices give users deeper visibility into their lifestyle choices by providing real-time data. These metrics can inspire changes in a user's daily habits much like performance metrics in connected factories can spur the onset of enhanced performance amongst machines and workers alike. A manufacturing plant floor now regularly includes digital tools and platforms such as sensors and machine monitoring, bringing that same level of digital curiosity and motivation to work and unlocking advanced standards for efficiency and visibility into operational and production processes.
Connecting a smart factory goes further than automated assembly lines or robots working on shop floors. At its core, factory connectivity integrates and empowers shop workers. Manufacturing processes can now be linked and scaled in ways that mean sensors, devices, machines, and workers are all fully networked. Collaborative digital infrastructure and machine autonomy can empower workers to monitor production and supply chains remotely.
The invention of Internet of Things (IoT) devices has increased data volume in manufacturing systems, now generating terabytes of data. This quantity of data presents challenges both in managing and interpreting that data. Connected factories inform business practices and innovation by bringing together Industry 4.0, IoT, and Big Data uses, updating manufacturing processes to include management principle changes, data collection frameworks, analytics frameworks, automation, and robotics.
These individualized, connected ecosystems run all manner of digital technologies like IoT, artificial intelligence (AI), cloud computing, advanced robotics, Big Data analytics, and 3D printing, all being highly visible and accessible for root cause analysis and predictive analysis. Applying this data and updated, digital tools and processes can benefit an entire organization, from floor workers to management, to reach new levels of innovation, efficiency, and profitability.