Digital factory – How mechanical engineering companies are contributing to digitalization on the shopfloor
The digital factory is the ideal image of future production. It allows an unprecedented level of efficiency and flexibility.
But which technologies are necessary for implementation? How can mechanical engineering companies help their customers successfully manage the transformation?
The world is currently experiencing the fourth industrial revolution, which is also known as Industry 4.0. This massive upheaval is primarily caused by the use of modern information and communication technologies. One characteristic trend is that more and more processes, systems, machines, workpieces and other objects are connected to a network. Production planning and control is also increasingly moving into the digital space, where further automation is being driven forward. Ultimately, the final stage of this transformation is the smart factory.
A Smart Factory is typically understood to be an intelligent factory that is characterized by the interconnection of software and information technology components with electronic and mechanical parts via the Internet. In particular, the digital factory is notable for its adaptability, flexibility, modifiability, ergonomics and resource efficiency. Thanks to intelligent components, it is possible for production to organize itself autonomously and perform numerous tasks on its own.
The digitalization and automation of production entails a variety of benefits for companies. The central added value is the increase in efficiency and productivity achieved through autonomous processes. This relieves employees of their previous, manual routine activities and also reduces error rates. The resources freed up are available for more highly qualified tasks.
The collection of real-time data in production and logistics also increases transparency along the entire value chain – from customer order to delivery. Available data not only facilitates status tracking, it also forms the basis for autonomous planning and control of production. This is also accompanied by a significantly higher degree of flexibility. Production processes can be adapted individually and as needed at any time thanks to the cross-company availability of real-time information. Even short-term changes in general conditions such as customer requirements, raw material offers or machine availability can be taken into account without manual intervention. Both individual products and small batches can be manufactured cost-effectively in such scenarios.
Last but not least, digitalization allows predictive maintenance of systems and machines.
This makes targeted, cost-saving planning and execution of maintenance work feasible. In addition, downtimes are significantly reduced.
Whether a large company or a medium-sized enterprise – digitalization is increasingly becoming a topic of factory planning. Industrial companies must consider several aspects when planning modern production sites in this regard. Here, the long-term goal of the digital factory should always be in focus: the creation of self-organizing structures. In order to be in a position to realize this, all machines, tools and products must constantly communicate with each other. A superordinate, central instance is also required in which all data converge. Consequently, the most important technological tools and elements for modern factory planning are the following:
- IIoT technologies (especially sensors and actuators)
- Cloud technologies for the management and provision of extensive data (Big Data)
- Communication technologies for transmitting data to the systems (especially remote technologies)
- Cyber-physical systems (tools for mediating between the real and virtual worlds)
There are already concrete solutions for these areas. However, the technical challenge in mechanical engineering lies in the enormous complexity of production environments. For example, factory planning must take into account an enormous range of different machines, IT environments, organizational forms, and supply chain structures with regard to digitalization. A smooth interaction of different technological platforms must be realized.
The road to the digital factory is fraught with challenges. One particularly significant issue is interoperability. In modern factory planning, companies in the industry will therefore place increasing value on the ease with which their machines and solutions can be networked. The availability of additional digital products for intelligent use of the resulting data will also influence investment decisions in the future. With its shared ecosystem and platform independence, ADAMOS is the ideal environment for mechanical and plant engineers to meet customer requirements of this kind.