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digitalisation in UK manufacturing

External driving forces pushing Smart Factory adoption

14 July, 2020

Part one of the Stratus Technologies Smart Factory series delved into what’s driving the adoption of digital technology, what’s holding it back and what the most sought-after benefits are from the factory floor. The results showed that manufacturers are under constant pressure to be more efficient and profitable which is leading them to new technologies. But what about outside of the organisation? Are customers with more information and specific needs driving the need for digitalisation? Greg Hookings, head of business development – digitalisation, Stratus Technologies, explains further.

Stratus Technologies is using the data of 204 European manufacturing companies with over 500 employees to offer unrivalled insight into the external drivers of Smart Factory deployments. The first of which is:

Supply Chain Management

A chain is only as strong as its weakest link. As complex customer requirements continue to evolve, manufacturers are adapting to meet the challenge to remain competitive. With the constant need to keep customer satisfaction levels high, over half (51%) of survey respondents cited improving supply chain management as important to their vision for Smart Factory deployments.

So, what does a Smart Factory supply chain look like? First, it’s faster, and not just in terms of delivery of the final product. Both self-organising and self-optimising, data collected through intelligent sensors can be integrated with customer preferences and other external factors. Take the weather for example, an intelligent supply chain will predict potential bottlenecks based on an abnormal weather event, ordering new parts or changing delivery schedules to best address the issue. With this approach manufacturers can move away from stockpiling in case of an external event and be ready for anything.

This mirrors one internal driver of Smart Factory deployment, with predictive maintenance capabilities, manufacturers no longer need to stockpile replacement parts. A truly Smart Factory tells plant managers when a fault is likely, allowing them to prepare for it, or prevent it altogether. Taking the analogy even further, if the supplier of the replacement parts is running a smart supply chain, the ordering and delivery of the replacement part would be a completely automated situation. Building in growing business models such as machinery-as-a-service would mean that this light touch management for the manufacturer becomes zero-touch, with the equipment manufacturer taking direct responsibility for the uptime of their machine.

A serviced offering

Continuing on with the vision of external capabilities, the survey shows that one in four (23%) would use digital solutions to offer new business models to customers.

These results underpin what was mentioned in part one, that it will no longer be enough for manufacturers to sell products and innovations to customers and produce them at a reasonable cost. Addressing the increasingly complex customer requirements, manufacturers need to meet these satisfaction levels and improve their supply chain operations. In fact, more than a third (39%) cite better monitoring and management of products after they leave the plant as their vision for their Smart Factory capabilities. By offering additional data-based services or new “as-a-service” business models, manufacturers can use the Smart Factory for the most important people outside the plant:

Customers

The biggest external driver of Smart Factory deployment comes as no surprise, with 62% of survey respondents saying their company vision with the Smart Factory is to improve customer satisfaction. This goes hand-in-glove with services and supply chain drivers as the added product customisation and as-a-service models are all geared towards improving the customer experience.

As a customer of a Smart Factory, what does your experience look like? As mentioned above, the smart supply chain would have already identified any particular external factors, such as weather, that would influence the buying decision. With the agile manufacturing that the Smart Factory allows, your chosen product may include several customisations that the manufacturer will be able to fulfil. Finally, with connected vehicles and other smart technology deployed the delivery stage is simple and efficient.

Going even further, for original equipment manufacturers charging customers for usage with an as-a-service model, the uptime and maintenance is your responsibility, with the real-time monitoring and predictive maintenance you can be sure your asset is healthy.

On the factory floor

All the above statistics and points paint a clear picture of the future of the Smart Factory, a customer-focused agile offering, using the latest digital technologies to improve the customer experience. That’s where it is going, so where is the Smart Factory now?

Figure 3 shows the elements of the Smart Factory that are being evaluated, planned or already deployed respectively. Already in place in most advanced factories across Europe are asset performance management, predictive maintenance, digital quality control and the Digital Twin.

Whilst these are all internal capabilities, they do have a profound effect on the external capabilities of a manufacturer. The Digital Twin for example saves manufacturers money with instant troubleshooting and feeding data back to the product development team. This allows for faster modelling, change-overs and improved research and development speed. Giving manufacturers the tools to better adapt to the changing needs of the customer and the flexibility to react quickly to events.

There is one element that binds all of the capabilities of the Smart Factory together, which leads us on to an interesting result of the survey.

Data (make the most of what you have got)

Smart machines and connected devices produce an abundance of data. Using this data in one way or another to aid operations, both internal and external, is the driving force behind Smart Factory deployment. But the survey has raised an interesting question, are we using the data already available to us?

Surprisingly, across Europe only a quarter (28%) of factories are analysing and using the data gained from Smart Factory deployments. Whilst a further 29% are planning to use this data over the next three years, this leaves 41% not yet planning to use this data at all. Delving even further, we can see that only 9% of factories are using 76-100% of the data collected.

Conclusion

Analysing the results of this Europe-wide survey show a customer-centric future, where customisation and real-time monitoring are offered as standard, and new business models are being developed. The discerning customer continues to demand more from the manufacturing process and this only increases expectations. Manufacturers are adopting Smart Factory initiatives to remain competitive and meet the needs of their markets.

To reach this data-driven manufacturing process there is still room for improvement especially concerning the use of existing data collected by smart devices. Whilst factories may not be using all the data they have to hand, those that do will be more agile, efficient and competitive than those that don’t. It can be overwhelming assessing all the capabilities of the Smart Factory and cost will always be a barrier to new technology deployments. As mentioned in part one, over half (58%) see cost as the barrier to deployment. So, it is wise to start small and take analysis right to the plant-floor with Edge Computing. By deploying an Edge Computing platform, manufacturers can make improvements with very little investment and alteration of the production process.

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Stratus Technologies

For leaders digitally transforming their operations in order to drive predictable, peak performance with minimal risk, Stratus ensures the continuous availability of business-critical applications by delivering zero-touch Edge Computing platforms that are simple to deploy and maintain, protected from interruptions and threats, and autonomous. For 40 years, we have provided reliable and redundant zero-touch computing, enabling global Fortune 500 companies and small-to-medium sized businesses to securely and remotely turn data into actionable intelligence at the Edge, cloud and data centre – driving uptime and efficiency.

For more information, please visit www.stratus.com or follow on Twitter @StratusAlwaysOn and LinkedIn @StratusTechnologies.

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