The Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, was first introduced in 2015. It foretold the continued advancement of manufacturing processes through the use of smart technologies. And with today’s finishing process being forever altered by the influx of short-run, run of one, and print-on-demand digital production, embracing smart factory strategies is essential to profitability and continued growth.
To gauge how your facilities measure up, consider these key components—and benefits—of smart manufacturing:
Machine automation. For most, today’s highly automated machines are a welcomed asset, helping to assuage the shortage of skilled labor within our industry, as well increasing labor costs due to benefits, training, etc. Not only is enhanced automation ideal for consistent and repeatable processes, but by minimizing or eliminating touch points, it optimizes changeover times—down to zero make-ready.
Connectivity of systems. By connecting processes, from printing to finishing to distribution, machines are no longer isolated production islands. This has led to greater production transparency in which real-time data collection and exchange is possible. The result? Cost-savings and process improvement throughout the entire production line.
Variability. Today’s finished products are much more complex. In order to produce variable jobs with optimum efficiency, production needs to continue job after job after job, without interruption, despite ever-varying trim sizes, production runs, personalized content, etc. Component “license plates” (barcodes) or JDF files coupled with the above-mentioned automated finishing technology have played a significant role in validating product integrity/accuracy while at the same time maintaining a high-level of productivity.
Touchless workflow. Automated processes and machine connectivity have resulted in touchless workflows that drive production efficiencies without costly—and time-consuming—human intervention. This in turn has led to reduced labor as well as less material waste—all beneficial to productivity and the bottom line.
Making the transition.
If you’ve yet to get started in smart manufacturing, a place to begin is by identifying opportunities in your facilities where enhanced automation makes the most sense based on your particular work mix (now and in the future), labor force, etc. Just as importantly, what types of metrics/analytics are needed to identify bottlenecks? And, what situations typically cause unplanned downtime—and costly repairs?
It’s your factory. And your future.
According to the 2017 report by Deloitte University Press entitled The Smart Factory:
“Every smart factory could look different due to variations in line layouts, products, automation equipment, and other factors….However, at the same time, for all the potential differences across the facilities themselves, the components needed to enable a successful smart factory are largely universal, and each one is important: data, technology, process, people, and security. Manufacturers can consider which to prioritize for investment based on their own specific objectives.”
The ultimate payback is that smart factories are all about continuous improvement. Since processes can be fully-integrated, a more collaborative manufacturing system ensues, one that responds in real-time to ever-changing job requirements. The result is optimum quality and optimum efficiency. And that’s why the implementation of smart factory intellect, technology, and machines is invaluable to your business’ future.