Smart Factory — A Great Journey from “Manufacturing” to “Intelligent Manufacturing”
Since 2013, when the German government officially announced the concept of “Industry 4.0” at the Hannover Messe, its influence has taken the world by storm. If the core power of Industry 1.0 to 3.0 is a continuous evolutionary process, from steam mechanization to power automation to data informatization, then Industry 4.0, driven by “intelligentization”, will completely subvert the expectations, changing perceptions of productivity and production relations in the traditional manufacturing industry by way of qualitative change — an immortal monument, perhaps, to the process of changing the history of human manufacturing.
Usually, a factory will be divided into two large departments: Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP). ERP is responsible for providing data: financial and order information, mostly; while MES controls the relationship between production processes and capacity. In the traditional manufacturing industry, in order to increase production and capacity, data management and order issues are completed through the internal information networking system of the two major departments. However, there is no actual informational exchange between ERP and MES — the entire process of both is split. This leads the unassailable result that, if there is a problem in the production process, ERP cannot learn effectively, leading to a huge deviation of information throughout the entire production process.
The problem with ERP and MES is only a microcosm of system faults in current factory operations and logistics. Other systems, such as design, procurement, and operations offices, are all isolated informational ‘islands’. This is the dilemma of “complete automation and partial “informationization” of the current manufacturing industry.
But all of these will gradually change with the rise of “smart factories”.
Industry 4.0 begins and ends with the widespread adoption of smart factories — acting as carriers and central hubs which will give rise to emergent intelligent manufacturing strategies. It combines the new generation of cutting-edge technologies, such as Internet of Things (IoT), blockchain and Artificial Intelligence (AI) technologies, with traditional manufacturing methods, so as to give clear control over all links of the manufacturing process, reduce manual intervention on the production line, and build a humanized factory that is energy efficient, green and environmentally sustainable.
A fully integrated “IoT block” acts as the cornerstone when building a smart factory system. In essence, the IoT block is designed to connect all the nodes, departments and organizations within the manufacturing system, use blockchain technology to co-chain information, and therefore give rise to completely mutual informational communication within the system. Once this integration is completed, it is then supplemented by AI algorithms to transport and analyze the big data which flows through itself. In fact, it is the deep excavation and secondary utilization of this “IoT data” — which provides filtered and precise data to all areas of the factory where it is required — which will break up informational islands inside the system; thus, realizing the full automation, information and intelligent potential of operations within the manufacturing factory.
Nowadays, smart factory systems have been closely watched by a number of organizations around the world. For example, Dr. Santhi Kanoktanaporn, Secretary General of the Asian Productivity Organization (APO), suggests that the rise of these technologies will significantly increase productivity if applied correctly: “With the rise of IoT, big data, blockchain and AI technologies, smart factories, as the carriers of high technology, are accelerating the transformation and upgrading of traditional manufacturing methods to the modern era. For instance, APO has begun to use AI technology to identify emerging global trends to help Asian countries improve their production levels.”
Recently, the Singaporean anti-counterfeiting technology company LINFINITY formally signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with APO in Tokyo, Japan — pledging to provide a full range of blockchain-based anti-counterfeiting and traceability technical support to the organization. LINFINITY CEO Anndy Lian stated during the signing: “Blockchain technology has become an important part of building a smart factory. What LINFINITY has to do is to break the myth of blockchain complexity and empower manufacturing to build smart factories in an easier and more practical way.”
From the perspective of human manufacturing history, modern manufacturing is making great strides toward informational precision, technological integration and intelligent manufacturing. It can be expected that in the future, as the diversity of consumer needs increases, far more personalized and customized products will gradually take root within intelligent manufacturing, with future manufacturing factories no longer existing as a simple distribution center for manufacturing goods. This trend will likely continue to grow with the next generation of “C2B” data centers and the rise of custom factories.
Originally published at https://medium.com on April 10, 2019.