Smart technologies have infiltrated every part of the modern world; from smart televisions and voice activated virtual assistants, to wearable tech and trackers. Now with the introduction of smart factories, the manufacturing world is no different.
Smart factories are part of what is known as ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution.’ An era that is looking to drive improved processes, increased efficiency and elevated cost-effectiveness. Despite this, the development of smart factories in the UK has been slow compared to other countries. But it is happening, and as this reports suggests (source: the guradian.com) if the UK embraces The Fourth Industrial Revolution, the manufacturing sector could unlock £455bn over the next decade.
To help achieve this, proposals include creating a national digital ecosystem that would give SMEs “the chance to go to a physical space to experiment with new technologies and see how they might be applied to a process in their own factories.”
Types of smart technologies
Automation is seemingly the most straightforward of all the smart tech. Through automation, repetitive tasks can be completed by machines, without the need of human input. Not only do automated machines carry out these tasks without worry of mental exhaustion, a wide variety of tasks can be completed quicker and with more consistently, and often more safely than by humans. Examples of this include automated forklift trucks and picking machines.
Artificial intelligence is well suited to the manufacturing industry. AI allows factories to make many more informed decisions at each stage in the production process in real time. Artificial intelligence can carry out manufacturing, quality control, shorten design time, reduce material waste, improve production and perform predictive maintenance.
Of course, a smart factory which uses artificial energy will need to be networked, to allow it to take data from production lines, design & engineering teams, and quality control to form a fully integrated and intelligent operation.
So what effect will smart factories have on the future of manufacturing?
Impact on jobs
A real fear associated with the rise of smart factories is how it will affect jobs. You don’t have to search far to find stories in the media about robots stealing jobs from workers, however, when you really delve into it, new technology can actually increase employment, rather than reducing it. It’s just the nature of the jobs that changes.
Studies carried out by data management consultants Deloitte have shown that changes and advancements in technology do not decrease the overall number of jobs but change what type of jobs are available.
Automation for example could indeed reduce the number of people working in repetitive and mundane roles, however, other jobs will increase within smart factories such as analysis and programming. In fact, that’s the conclusion of a new Government-commissioned report which estimated that increasing use of smart technologies has the ability to create 175,000 more jobs.
Whilst historically, a factory’s main purpose has been to manufacture goods, smart factories will now also have a focus on collecting data. Manufacturers can lose up to 30% of revenue due to inefficiencies in the production process. By collecting and analysing data, factories can optimise their processes ensuring they’re working at optimum capacity and efficiency.
The future of smart manufacturing in the UK
Smart factories offer the UK the opportunity to make the manufacturing industry a more skilled and high tech production. With increased investment and adoption of smart technologies it will create more high level and better paid jobs within factories, and will see increased efficiency and productivity within UK manufacturing.