Analysis: Four smart factory trends to watch in 2018
Analysis: Four smart factory tech trends for 2018

Analysis: Four smart factory trends to watch in 2018

Internet of Business presents four key technology trends that will help the smart factory deliver on its efficiency and responsiveness goals in 2018. 

At the tail end of 2017, a new manufacturing plant opened in Sunnyvale, California, that takes the smart factory concept to a new level.

The facility belongs to Quanergy, a company that specializes in making LiDAR [light detection and radar] sensors – the technology that allows autonomous vehicles to sense their surroundings and to steer, brake and avoid collisions.

Quanergy’s new smart factory features a high-capacity, fully automated production line, located in a clean room environment. The line features state-of-the-art semiconductor handling and packaging equipment, including a conveyor system connecting machinery along this line that turns the raw material of silicon wafers into finished LiDAR sensors.

The facility also handles automated calibration and final testing of sensors, according to the company, providing “high quality and reliability in an industry that thus far relied mainly on manual labour to build mechanical LiDARS.”

Smartness, of course, is in the eyes of the beholder – but it’s probably safe to define the ‘smart factory’ as a venue in which connected technologies enable manufacturing operations to become more efficient and more responsive. And we can expect to see more connected technology and smart factories emerge in the manufacturing sector during 2018.

Read more: Huawei sets up Connected Factory group to push 5G in manufacturing

What does 2018’s smart factory look like?

With that in mind, Internet of Business has come up with a list of four trends to watch in 2018. These are technologies that we believe will help manufacturing companies achieve these twin goals of efficiency and responsiveness.

1. Industrial robotics

At a Philips plant producing electric razors in the Netherlands, robots outnumber production workers by more than 14 to one, according to a recent article from strategy firm McKinsey & Company. A new wave of factory automation is underway, its authors write, and robots are entering new environments and creating new value for manufacturers. In part, this trend is driven by the availability of collaborative robots, or ‘cobots’ that are cheaper, more mobile and more flexible than their predecessors and that can work safely alongside human colleagues.

2. OT/IT convergence

Operational technology (OT) and information technology (IT) have long been kept separate as sources of data – but there’s a growing understanding that combining the data from these two silos can lead to valuable insights into manufacturing performance. In turn, these insights can help with closer adherence to manufacturing schedules, fewer periods of downtime and faster responses to issues with machinery. In 2017, we saw a number of industry partnerships that bring together OT and IT companies – such as that between ABB and HP, for example. 2018 is bound to bring many more.

Read more: Machine vision: a bird’s-eye view of the smart factory

Here come AI and AD

3. The rise of AI

Artificial intelligence has a key role to play in the smart factory, helping manufacturers predict demand patterns and allocate resources far more accurately. In other words, AI allows manufacturers to answer questions based on cold, hard data rather than human guesswork. At its Oracle Open World event in September 2018, executive vice president of application development Steve Miranda unveiled new, cloud-based smart factory apps that come with embedded AI – Oracle Adaptive Intelligent Apps. These, said Miranda, would support “sophisticated decision science” – but in a way that was hidden from users and embedded in the software they use to perform day-to-day work tasks.

4. Additive manufacturing

As 3D printers become cheaper, faster, more accurate and better able to work with a broader range of materials, including production-grade ones, they’re increasingly used to make final products, not just prototypes. This is referred to as ‘additive manufacturing’, because these machines lay down layer after layer of a given material to create a ready-made object, as opposed to the ‘subtractive’ business of cutting, drilling and hammering material away. This will open the door to building personalized variations of mass-produced products – from a pair of sports shoes built to fit the individual user’s feet to an automobile with bumpers and spoilers customized according to their own design.

At Internet of Business, we’ll be following these trends closely over 2018. They also promise to be hot topics at our Internet of Manufacturing event in Munich in February (details below).

Coming soon: Our Internet of Manufacturing event will be coming to Munich on 6 & 7 February 2018. Attendees will get the chance to learn more about how connected technologies open up new paths to increased productivity and profitability for industrial companies.