The term “smart plant” has been used far and wide in the past few years, but most people don’t know what it means. Sure, it’s a modern facility that uses advanced robots, cameras, sensors, and other technologies to improve production, but the core of every “smart plant” is an artificial intelligence solution and big data.
Any factory or production facility can become “smart” and join the fourth industrial revolution dubbed industry 4.0. However, there is a lot of prep work involved, and this article will explore the details of engineering a smart plant.
All About The Data
There is no smart plant without data. Factories and manufacturers install thousands of tiny sensors all over the plant floor to monitor each machine and generate real-time operational data. The data is an essential part of a modern factory because it provides knowledge to improve the operation.
The gathered data is sent to an AI software solution that analyzes it, finds valuable information, and suggests further actions that help optimize production. As the system analyzes large amounts of data, it filters information, providing the management team with data that helps them make more informed decisions. The process is continuous, allowing the AI to improve the operation further in the future.
New technologies such as machine learning, AI, and the Internet of Things work together to provide otherwise invisible insights that human experts and engineers couldn’t find no matter how hard they tried. AI solutions are replacing the need for human operators and experts in a new, digital environment. Other technologies such as digital twins can copy entire processes, plants, products, or services in a digital environment using real-world data provided by the IoT sensors. That allows engineers to test ideas and see how individual elements will behave in the future.
The bottom line is, a production plant generates an endless amount of data used to improve the operation. Once the AI in charge understands all processes, it can help streamline production by automating repetitive tasks. Moreover, the AI will also find areas to help save energy, reduce costs, reduce waste, and provide many other benefits.
Developing a Smart Plant
Let’s say that you’re a plant owner looking to update your outdated systems and prepare for the future. Creating the so-called “smart plant” takes a lot of time, effort, money, and careful planning. The process consists of four main stages. The goal of new technologies is always to increase production and ROI while reducing manufacturing costs and improving product quality.
Of course, every plant has its unique complexities and problems, so implementing new technologies can be a demanding process. However, if you’re ready to start a digital transformation, here are the four primary areas you have to address:
- Data integrity
- Eliminating Paper
- A reliable reporting system
- Accurate decision-making
Let’s look at every step in more detail and explain why it’s important.
Regardless of the industry, they belong to, most factories and production plants experience issues such as expired maintenance orders, incorrect coding, poor SAP plant maintenance configuration, etc. When these issues combine, they can cause serious problems such as idle labor, prolonged equipment downtimes, and a negative effect on ROI.
The best way to fix those problems is to ensure data integrity in SAP. In other words, you have to create a system that has access to real-time data from one end to another. The data must be accurate and reliable for the machine learning model to learn how it works and allow the AI to provide more accurate suggestions.
Once you’ve got your data pipelines in order, the next step is to eliminate paper. You want operational data to pass from the physical to the digital environment as fast as possible. The paper would only slow things down and compromise data quality due to human error.
Remember, you need a system that can provide detailed event and incident reports in real-time.
Issues that happened in the morning might be irrelevant in the afternoon, so you want to streamline reporting to ensure that you capture every problem. That’s why the system has to be agile and responsive. The good news is that there are plenty of advanced solutions that facilitate machine learning in manufacturing to improve the flow of data, increase reliability, and eliminate paper.
A reliable reporting system
The only way to monitor your new AI-powered system is to set up a reliable reporting strategy. All asset management, planning, and execution in a smart factory depend on accurate reports that provide reliable information. Moreover, the reporting is done daily, and your managers will be in charge of ensuring that everyone involved complies with the rules, regulations, and company standards. The process will go on indefinitely, and it will help you optimize production and other essential processes in the future.
Information is essential for making good business decisions. The same applies to plant and maintenance managers, who traditionally have difficulty tracking every process and machine. However, with an AI-powered solution in place and possibly an EMS software, managers have access to essential information that suggests what they should do. For example, they can use daily reports to monitor available replacement parts, schedule routes, monitor plant safety, allocate resources, etc.
AI and IIoT technologies work together to help managers plan their routines with improved accuracy. The reason is that AI can monitor multiple channels, perform cross-referencing, and analyze massive amounts of operational data. That leads to better decision-making and finding better ways to complete essential tasks.
Smart Factories Are The Future
The term “smart plant” is becoming the new normal as entire industries transition to a digital or hybrid environment. Smart technologies keep evolving, leading to new strategies for operation optimization, sustainability, and driving profits. The process largely depends on using real-time data from internal and external sources to generate knowledge that helps you make better-informed decisions.
However, a smart factory offers other benefits that improve productivity while reducing costs. It’s the way of the future, and most successful manufacturers will soon jump on the modern technology train called Industry 4.0.
Ellie Northcott is a long-time marketer, currently working as a freelancer in Miami, Florida.
Editor at Find Digital Agency.
She is also a passionate writer and loves to explore new, innovative and digital news.
In her spare time, she is an eco-activist.