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The use of data is obviously the cornerstone of digital factories and the key to completely digitalise value chains. New technologies such as artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things (IoT) open brand new ways for using data that can bring companies very concrete benefits.

Internet of Things for industry

“Our customers are typically interested in using the IoT for predictive maintenance analyses,” said Konrad Grohs, Director of European FIELD System Department at factory automation company FANUC. “They want to identify the next potential problems with their machines and do planned maintenance work during production downtime.”

To respond to this demand, FANUC is developing its IoT solution FIELD. FIELD will allow customers to connect all their machines and devices, regardless of their age and manufacturer, through a single industrial IoT system. By collecting and analysing data from all their equipment – machines, robots, sensors and so on – they will be able to better understand and improve their processes.

This is the typical scope of an industrial IoT system, but we plan to go one step further.

“This is the typical scope of an industrial IoT system, but we plan to go one step further,” Mr Grohs explained. Working with partners specialised in artificial intelligence (AI), FANUC intends to develop standardised AI applications and use machine learning to help customers better analyse and draw the right conclusions from their IoT data.

The company is also working on systems aimed at controlling edge equipment in close to real time. “Valuable data from production devices will be processed directly at the production site, in close proximity to the manufacturing process. Only necessary information will be sent on to other systems.”

Making digital factories energy smart

Thilo Stieber, Chief Digital Officer Manufacturing at digital transformation specialist Atos, provided another example of concrete benefits to be derived from interconnected, digital factories in the field of energy saving. “Today, energy-saving measures are typically put in place with a top-down approach where companies try to control energy use on plant or asset level,” he said. “However, if you are able to take all data across your factory into account, there might be an additional 25% of energy savings that can be done.”

Currently, companies often implement isolated energy saving initiatives in fields such as power management, production management and the management of smart buildings. “This view in ‘silos’ often leads to missed opportunities, and measures implemented in one isolated field might even have a negative impact on the others,” Mr Stieber claimed. “Companies need to change to a more holistic way of thinking.”

If you are able to take all data across your factory into account, there might be an additional 25% of energy savings that can be done.

The key is to connect data from the different fields and make it accessible for everyone. Mr Stieber recommended running real-time data-centric services on edge equipment, and optimising data management in a cloud environment. “A combination of cloud and edge services can create considerable business gains,” he said.

Interconnection and resilience

Interconnected digital systems can also be powerful tools for R&D teams in global companies. Raymond Adam, Laboratory Manager EMEA at coating, manufacturing, and printing and packaging specialist Michelman, described how the company is moving from independent R&D teams at different geographical locations to a more integrated R&D function. “Our objective is to have interdependent teams with compatible processes, where everyone can follow the work in progress in different regions,” he said. “This is where digitalised processes play an important role.”

Soft skills and change management have become essential.

Michelman deployed its first digitalised R&D process at the end of 2018, and now has a running system that is continuously being improved. “Involving all stakeholders in the systems design, getting the buy-in from the business and executive levels and offering user training and coaching are all critical success factors,” Mr Adam pointed out. “Our digital transformation has changed the technology we use, but even more our human behaviour. Soft skills and change management have become essential.”

The need to interconnect different digital systems and make them resilient was also highlighted by Matthieu Deboeuf Rouchon, Advanced Solution Manager Digital Transformation at innovation and engineering consulting firm Altran. “Resilience is the major technology trend today, not only to ensure that technology can help people in case of difficulties, but also to move towards long-term sustainable activities,” he said. “It is crucial to think globally and locally at the same time, and establish connections and interoperability between your own systems and those of others.”

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