The Digital Factory - Using potentials properly

Industrial Internet of things

Digital Factory, Smart Manufacturing, Smart Factory: Dazzling terms that have been firmly established in the industry's language usage for several years now. The Association of German Engineers (VDI) defines the term "digital factory" as follows: "The digital factory is the generic term for a comprehensive network of digital models, methods and tools - including simulation and three-dimensional visualization, which are integrated by means of continuous data management. Its goal is the holistic planning, evaluation and continuous improvement of all essential structures, processes and resources of the real factory in connection with the product".


In practice, the focus is on the following points:

- Improvement of economic efficiency and planning quality

- Shorten product development and launch

- Transparent communication

- Standardized planning processes

- Competent knowledge management

The resulting positive effects are manifold: a shorter time-to-market phase, a reduced number of correction loops and planning errors, and last but not least the transparent storage of experience-based expert knowledge.


Digital Factory as the basis for a successful industry 4.0 and the establishment of the Smart Factory

Increasing digitalization and the parallel integration of the industrial value-added chain can successively raise the production process to a completely new level of development. Because the goal of Industry 4.0 is precisely the smart factory, in which all components - machines, people, tools and resources - are networked and communicate with each other in real time via the Internet. A valid digital data basis is needed for implementation. The digital factory is the supplier of this data basis, but it must be further developed into a smart factory with the right measures. In concrete terms, this means that digital models must also be made real-time and adaptive and must be able to adapt themselves to reality.

The results are worth the effort, and here is just one example: the Bosch Group estimates that the cost savings achieved by networked production and the additional sales generated by networked production will amount to around one billion euros in each of the period 2015-2020. Involved associates received constantly updated data in real time by means of an "Active Cockpit" to enable early detection of machine malfunctions. All relevant production data were evaluated, such as energy utilization, pressure, vibration and temperature. This measure alone enabled Bosch to reduce inventories by up to 20 percent within a year, while productivity rose by ten percent.

Sustainability also plays an important role in this context: the holistic digitalization program Think Blue Factory initiated by Volkswagen is designed to achieve a 25 percent reduction in environmental impact at all production sites - as a first step toward completely CO2-neutral production. An ambitious goal, but one that is absolutely feasible on the road to Industry 4.0. After all, the potential of digitization lies particularly in the following areas: Transparency of consumption (electricity, water, etc.), optimization of monitoring, more efficient use of resources (production process) and more efficient processing (production technology). All this ensures lower energy consumption of the individual work steps.


Four theses for properly using the potential of the digital factory

Dynamic, flexible and intelligent: The technologies used in the digital factory suggest a revolutionary potential for the entire production process. But technology alone will not suffice: The integration of the various individual technologies into a holistically oriented digital corporate strategy is the ideal way to achieve greater efficiency and new growth areas. The digital revolution stands for the merging of the digital and physical worlds: virtual reality simulates external reality. This reality is digitized in the Internet of Things by integrating sensors and interfaces. Thus, IoT is gradually being transformed into IIoT, the Industrial Internet of Things, in which artificial intelligence controls many processes. Machines communicate with each other independently and are constantly learning. This in turn enables more complex processes at better cost conditions, which brings completely new business cases onto the scene. 

Technological innovations are the key in all areas: predictive maintenance, zero downtime, batch size 1, deep learning, advanced analytics, smart robotics. They enable increased productivity and reduced risks across all business operations, and thus offer great opportunities for increasing revenue growth through new products, services and solutions.

For the experts at management consultancy Deloitte, the following four attributes are essential for the optimal implementation of the digital factory on the way to a smart factory: networked, transparent, proactive, agile. In concrete measures this means:



Real-time data streams improve the collaboration of companies with suppliers and customers. The prerequisite is a continuous evaluation of sensor data, local data and traditional databases. All capabilities are used more efficiently in this way - intelligent production assets, decentralized decision-making and the synchronization of workflows ensure this. 



Secured data links to the customer enable appropriate demand forecasts and thus also a corresponding adjustment of planning. The evaluation of real-time data also accelerates the decision-making process. Based on technologies such as GPS or RFID, tracking in the flow of goods and all logistics processes are optimized.



Predictive maintenance - automated wear monitoring using sensors, algorithms and artificial intelligence can virtually predict anomalies and initiate solutions in advance. In this context, an independent ordering process leads to a greatly improved supply management. Problems in supplier quality can also be detected early on. In addition, all relevant security aspects can be monitored in real time.



The consequences of production changes can also be monitored in real time. The entire production process becomes flexible and adaptable thanks to the Industrial IoT equipment used. The result is cost-optimized processes: improved resource management, more reliable production capacities, increased efficiency, high levels of automation, lower maintenance costs, improved quality assurance, enhanced safety and sustainability.


Incidentally, the result of such a digital supply network is not only operational efficiency. The new manufacturing methods also create new types of products, services and entire business areas that help a company to strategically expand and maintain its competitive advantage. 


Corporate culture 4.0 in the age of digitalization

In the course of the digitization process, not only technical and strategic challenges arise, but also the entire corporate culture is subject to considerable change: Work roles and structures are changing, old habits have to be discarded and new knowledge acquired. Digitization creates new functions, for example in the areas of software engineering, cloud computing, data analytics, cyber security, systems integration or user experience design. The right candidates must be found for all these positions. Every company is therefore faced with the challenge of a recruitment culture adapted to the requirements in order to attract the sought-after "digital talents". Experts count among the characteristic features of a contemporary "digital culture" such as a new risk culture, a collaborative work style and, last but not least, an agile, data and fact-driven decision-making culture. Managers in particular must lead the way here and credibly drive this digital cultural change.


Conclusion: Using the potential of the Digital Factory to become a Smart Factory

In many companies, the people responsible have already laid the foundations for digitalization. However, for this initial spark to become a genuine fourth industrial revolution, it will still take time and a great deal of commitment at the structural, technological and financial levels. Experts are talking about a period of between five and 20 years until Smart Factory. Above all, the interaction of new technologies with work organization, production systems and software, as well as the real-time communication capabilities of factory objects, represent the greatest challenges here. 

The entire planning systems of the digital factory will have to evolve in order to make the most of the opportunities. In establishing the digital factory, it is therefore essential that the complex, interdisciplinary interaction of the various corporate divisions functions. Technology, operations, strategy, change management: all of these play a decisive role if the potential of the digital factory is to be exploited in such a way that a smart factory is really created that deserves its title. 



veröffentlicht am : 2020-02-29 09:50