The Factory of the Future project, created by Microsoft, acts as a response to the changes taking place in the industry under which a new generation of advanced technologies allows for the introduction of automated, intelligent, and, as a result, more efficient production. Sii, one of the leading partners of Microsoft, took part in the development of the concept of the Factory of the Future in accordance with the assumptions of Industry 4.0.
The Factory of the Future concept of the digital transformation of the industry has its debut in Poland, but ultimately it will be offered on global markets. A series of meetings introducing comprehensive, ready-to-implement solutions in the area of technology and production equipment, as well as planning, management, and control, accompany the presentation of the concept.
During the meetings, Sii experts share good practices in the field of digitization and innovations that have already been used in the market to optimize and increase the reliability of individual operations and entire production processes.
Przemysław Grzanka, Engineering Competency Center Director at Sii, and Artur Rusek, our Business Development Manager, an expert in the area of Microsoft Dynamics 365, told us about the future of the industry and solutions enabling successful digital transformation in the production area.
You have been providing industry solutions for many years. How much has this business changed in your opinion, and what does the introduction of the Factory of the Future concept implemented by Sii, a Microsoft partner, mean for its prospects?
Przemysław Grzanka, Engineering Competency Center Director at Sii: The development of technologies has mainly aimed at improving the profitability of processes over recent years. Companies tried to achieve this goal by fully optimizing and reducing all cost-generating areas. It applied mainly to unscheduled shutdowns and project implementation time. Factory of the Future is the next step towards production planning improvement and better management of data related to it. The introduction of fully intelligent analysis of the collected information, the opportunity to implement the process in accordance with the best parameters, as well as the reduction of the time needed for its full implementation are the most important benefits of introducing the Factory of the Future concept. The implementation of this technology is a must for companies that wish to maintain their market position.
Artur Rusek, Business Development Manager at the Dynamics 365 Competency Center:
It is worth emphasizing that Industry 4.0 is basically not a revolution but an evolution. This means that the manufacturing industry has entered the stage of constant change and improvement, in which the introduction of new technologies that give a competitive advantage in the market is crucial.
What challenges of digital transformation do the production companies face? What does the successful implementation of the Factory of the Future solutions give them?
AR: The main challenge is the need to change the way of thinking about the organization, about the processes that take place in it, as well as its environment. A great example is the Internet of Things and robotics. The more devices connected to the network, the more data that can automatically be sent to our ERP system. Such an ecosystem provides a better insight into the supply chain, logistics partners’ operations, and equipment performance on the production line. Managing such an ecosystem is a big challenge, but the insight into the operation of the entire company from the perspective of a single system can bring tangible benefits.
PG: The purpose of digital transformation in manufacturing companies is to provide full control over production and improve its performance. The successful implementation of technology in line with the Industry 4.0 concept includes machines and production lines, their vertical and horizontal communication, data analysis, and intelligent process control.
Our activities cover the area of mechanical engineering, including control and data collection systems, visualization solutions, and the software for intelligent collected data analysis and management of work as well as the ERP class system using Microsoft Dynamics 365 tools.
What should information and data management at a factory of the future look like from the perspective of an expert in the field of Dynamics 365?
AR: Managing increasingly larger volumes of data has been a challenge for companies. Even if they have enough information, its correct interpretation is still doubtful. And all indications are that the data volumes will increase exponentially.
Sometimes the information available to a company is of poor quality, incomplete, and it makes it difficult to get a good assessment of the company situation. The ERP system seems to be a natural choice in this case. It allows for data organization that can later be used to make the right decisions.
Przemek, you are an expert in the field of engineering services. What do you think has the greatest impact on improving the production line efficiency?
PG: Improvement of productivity, and thus the profitability of production, is the main assumption of the Factory of the Future. It consists of many elements – from the optimization of the production cycle itself to logistics related tasks. Only shared and intelligent management and exchange of information can bring the expected success.
Planning and balancing to avoid shutdowns or working at maximum load is important. It decreases wastage and defects and at the same time improves the production line elements lifetime.
The biggest threat to performance are unplanned interruptions and failures which also cause severe financial losses. With the ability to predict failures, we can prevent them early enough. Furthermore, our experience shows that line control programs are often very inefficiently written. I remember the case in which, by changing the process sequence from serial to parallel, we achieved a 15% increase in efficiency. Albeit, of course, this solution is not always possible to implement.
How do you think the factory of the future will look like?
PG: The current possibilities offered by the combination of IT and industrial solutions will significantly improve the efficiency and quality of production while reducing its costs. It will also be important to be able to adapt products to customers’ expectations and to shorten the time to market. The factories that will be able to keep up, will definitely be one step ahead of the competition.
I am sure that intelligent factories and Industry 4.0 will become a reality. I think that the integration of all areas of production plants, from the machine layer, through SCADA/MES, to ERP class systems, is the first step on the path to digital transformation.
AR: I think companies should remember that customers increasingly often expect personalized products, additionally supplemented by service. The production of short series while maintaining the same or even increased production volume is a big challenge. Robotization, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, cloud computing, and many other technologies with a good ERP system behind can definitely help.