Industry 4.0, 4IR, the Industrial Internet of Things and Smart manufacturing are manufacturing buzzwords. However, despite their singular importance with their own benefits – they all share one common thread. They are all centred on the digital transformation of business.

Smarter is better

Currently, manufacturing systems are making use of the advanced technologies. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), defines the smart landscape 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”.

The turbo-charge effect of smart technology is enabling factories to produce more while lowering costs. In particular, technologies including; big data, robotics, machine learning, artificial intelligence, augmented reality, 3D level of control play a big role in the efficiency and productivity of factories. Not only this, but the oversight they bring can help 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: Brightening up the future

The benefits which a smart factory can bring are limitless. 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.

The future of manufacturing: Le Vaudreuil

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

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% increase in productivity, and energy savings of up to 30%. Seems like a no brainer. This factory not only showcases the benefits of embracing smart technologies but also the ease at which any business can begin its own digital journey.

Don’t fall off the bandwagon

Let’s be honest, smart technology will continue to evolve over time and manufacturers must keep up. At the moment, the main focus is on Industry 4.0. But in a few years’ time, we’ll be seeing the rise of Industry 5.0. 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 whilst automation may replace certain human tasks in a factory – humans are essential for operations and improving performance.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 ensure manufacturers stay on top of their competition, they must embrace new technologies to truly become a smart factory. With more than 70% of companies stuck in pilot phases of adopting Fourth Industrial Revolution manufacturing technologies, the nine lighthouses are a great example of what the future has to offer. Manufacturers should take inspiration from them and ensure their factories adopt similar technologies to succeed.