Smart factories set to transform manufacturing

Manufacturers are investing in smart factories, taking advantage of digital technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), big data analytics, Artificial Intelligence (AI), advanced robotics, 3D printing and cloud computing, says a new report from consulting firm Capgemini.

Features that you might find in a smart factory include collaborative robots, augmented reality equipment, and machines that send alerts when they need maintenance — all of which can increase productivity, efficiency and flexibility and reduce operating costs.

Capgemini found that three in four manufacturers (76%) either have a smart factory initiative that is ongoing or are working on formulating one, and they expect this investment to drive a 27% increase in manufacturing efficiency over the next five years. This would boost the global economy by at least $500bn (£387bn).

By the end of 2022, manufacturers predict that 21% of their plants will be smart factories.

So where will this shift leave factory employees?

In the study, respondents saw automation as a means to remove inefficiencies and overheads, rather than jobs. More than half (54%) are providing digital skills training to their employees and 44% are investing in digital talent acquisition to bridge the skills gap. For highly skilled workers in areas such as automation, analytics and cyber security, there are even more employment opportunities, Capgemini said.

Grégoire Ferré, chief digital officer at Faurecia and Capgemini client, commented: “At Faurecia, we are seeing the greatest success in our employees working alongside intelligent tech. For example, we use smart robots in our business where there are ergonomic issues, ultimately creating a safer environment for workers and it gives them time back to focus on other, more-important tasks.”

Discussing Faurecia’s smart factory plans, he said: “Launching Greenfield smart factories as well as digitising Faurecia’s more than 300 plants is a key building block of our digital transformation programme. We are also seeing success in ‘revamping’ old processes to be more efficient, for example making our shop floor paperless, or using technology as part of our predictive maintenance scheme — all of which save our employees time.”

Jean-Pierre Petit, global head of digital manufacturing at Capgemini, added: “This study makes it clear that we are now in the digital industrial revolution. The impact on overall efficiency will be profound. The next few years will be critical as manufacturers step up their digital capabilities and accelerate their digital outcomes to maximise company benefits.”

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