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How smart technology is transforming the industrial world

Martin Walder, VP Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric, discusses the ways in which the industrial world is transforming as a result of smart tec...

Martin Walder
|Mar 22|magazine13 min read

Martin Walder, VP Industrial Automation at Schneider Electric, discusses the ways in which the industrial world is transforming as a result of smart technology.

When it comes to the world of manufacturing, Industry 4.0, the Industrial Internet of Things and Smart manufacturing are all terms we hear thrown around a lot. Whilst these terms can all be used in isolation; they share one very important commonality – they are all impacted by digital transformation.  

A smarter world 

According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the smart landscape can be defined as “fully integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network and in customer needs”. 

At present, manufacturing systems are benefitting from an array of new, innovative technologies. Technologies including; big data, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D level of control and the oversight that they bring all play a role in helping us to create a digital twin of an entire manufacturing system. The benefit of these digital twins is the increased business performance and greater real-time understanding of an object or process in play. 

Lighthouses: Shedding some light on the future

A smart factory brings with it countless benefits. Smart factories embrace planning, supply chain logistics and all aspects of product development and innovation. Those failing to adopt smart manufacturing technologies and practices are the ones who will fall behind the competition and ultimately are likely to disappear.

With this in mind – for factories to become truly smart, they first need to understand what it means to be smart. The World Economic Forum has listed nine of the world smartest factories, calling them ‘lighthouses’ that shed light on the benefits of Industry 4.0. These factories are the ones that have successfully implemented the smartest technologies, whilst keeping people and sustainability at the heart of what they do. 

Enter: Le Vaudreuil

A great example of one of these lighthouses is the Le Vaudreuil, one of Schneider Electric’s motor control manufacturing plants in Normandy. This factory draws on our EcoStruxure technology and utilises a wide range of our digital tools. 

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This factory represents the future of manufacturing. Think about it. Inside the factory there are mini data centres storing critical site data, all USB keys pass through a decontamination terminal, and sensors monitor machinery to predict – as opposed to reacting to all factory maintenance needs. What’s more – as a result of augmented reality, the factory is benefiting from a 7 per cent increase in productivity, and energy savings of up to 30 per cent. Seems like a no brainer. 

The future of smart manufacturing 

If we can be sure of one thing, it’s that the future is constantly changing. Right now, we’re focused on Industry 4.0. But – very soon, Industry 5.0 will be the talk of the town. Industry 5.0 will focus on the human elements. It will no longer be all about machine and system interconnectivity, but – about how machines and humans can work together – something known as cobotics. 

We must remember that automation has not taken over human roles in the factory. Whilst new technologies are vital for future success, so too is human input. Be it by offering a sense of direction, or gathering and analysing data, there is still a lot to be done. Smart factories are here to stay, but they aren’t here to replace our jobs.  They are here to help businesses remain competitive and successful. And – with greater success, comes more jobs. Ultimately, smarter factories will also facilitate more jobs in the long run. 

Another important development is the arrival of 5G. It will bring faster downloads and faster responses from applications as a result of lower latency. Sensors will become even more widespread and responsive, and businesses will be able to react to information in real time. With 5G technology having now arrived in the UK, we must assess how it can make smart factories even smarter. Among the possible applications are preventative maintenance and controlling machines remotely.

To avoid falling off the bandwagon and keep pace with the competition, manufacturers need to embrace these smart technologies – and become a smart factory. Perhaps the nine lighthouses can shed a bit of light on what the future has to offer.

For more information on manufacturing topics - please take a look at the latest edition of Manufacturing Global.

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