What is a Digital Factory?

A digital factory is a generic term that refers to a network of digital models that replicates aspects of a physical factory. It includes a range of methods and tools, all of which are managed with integrated data management systems. These methods and tools also include simulation and 3D visualization. The main goal of a digital factory is comprehensive planning, continuous evaluation, and enhancement for the real factory that manufactures a product.

Digital Factory Diagram

A digital factory focuses on the following:

  1. Improved quality of planning and economic efficacy
  2. Shorter go-to market time
  3. Clear communication
  4. Uniform planning standards
  5. Capable knowledge management

The first three industrial waves were the changes brought about by the steam engine, electricity, and computers. In Industry 4.0, the digital factory utilizes several types of equipment related to the Internet of Things (IoT), all integrated into a cohesive ecosystem. This ecosystem comprises both internal functions and external players from the departments of sales, procurement, R&D, to supply chain systems and clients.

How Does a Digital Factory Work

The main purpose of a digital factory is to help a business change for the better, offering improved products and services. Towards this goal, factories wishing to pursue this avenue have dedicated cross-functional teams that make use of repetitive tools and processes to create the same products, but, with each iteration, offering newer experiences, services, and even enhanced solutions. Digital factory teams function in close association with business teams to accelerate growth options for the organization.

A command center powers digital factory teams and provides them with mission-critical expertise. This can be related to deep learning analytics, cyber-security standards, coding practices, agile technology, and co-ordination between these processes. The digital factory’s work is overseen by an operating committee that tracks work processes, removes obstacles, and provides funding when necessary.

Five Core Principles for the Digital Factory of the Future
Five Core Principles for the Digital Factory of the Future
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How Digital Factories are Disrupting Manufacturing Business Trends

The concept of digital factories is gaining traction with manufacturers who are looking for new technologies to enhance productivity and drive relevance. Digital factories enhance a manufacturer’s decision-making to optimize operations. A strong database is built along the way and this serves as a starting point to encourage progress. Digital factories are already becoming a part of current enterprise resource planning and Internet of Things projects. Transformative technologies will take manufacturing to the next level and digital factories enable this.

How Transformative Technology Drives Digital Factory Innovation

The digital factory concept is changing several existing perceptions in manufacturing. Take a look at the benefits of digital factories:

  • Small manufacturers are able to customize products, giving them a chance to compete with larger organizations.
  • Robotics, and its related software, enhances automation processes, ensuring the real-time transmission of data.
  • Enhanced adoption of highly modern supply chain systems brings down operational costs and streamlines production.
  • Heightened forecasting capabilities and inventory optimization utilizes existing capabilities for current market requirements.

These benefits increase operational excellence and can help manufacturers open up newer revenue streams in competitive markets.

The Rise of Smart Manufacturing

Disruptive technologies are making way for digital factory systems, and smart manufacturing is gaining momentum. Smart manufacturing is a reference to data-enhanced technologies that pave the way for intelligent, data-based decision-making in everyday operations. In many ways, smart factories are synonymous with digital factories. The move towards smart manufacturing is seen in a number of these trends:

  • Large-scale digitization across the manufacturing sector
  • Convergence of IT and operations technology systems
  • Updating and modernizing of legacy control solutions

How to Set Up a Digital Factory for Your Business

Digital factories are not a one-time investment or project. It is a complete digital journey that a business undertakes. There will be several updates and changes to processes along the way: equipment will have to update, and staff have to buy in. A digital factory is achieved when all processes are digitized across all aspects of the business:

  • Sales teams have access and insight into production data, existing vendor capabilities, and supplies. This will help them arrive at accurate quotes for projects. It will also help in assessing resource availability when discussing the project with prospective customers.
  • Production processes combine with robotic processes to ensure efficacy.
  • Quality control and quality testing utilize digital imaging and video capabilities for deeper and quicker analyses.
  • All teams, warehouses, and field services have access to updated and in-depth insights into inventory, items in transit, and more. This data should be accessible to all stakeholders within the business.

These digital strategies do not function in isolation but in a cohesive way that works to enhance efficiency. Innovation does not happen overnight, and there must be scope for an iterative progress. Businesses should follow a process:

  1. Ensure your enterprise resource planning system is based on a future-proof platform that adapts to specifically created workflows made by emerging technologies.
  2. Implement Internet of Things solutions for specific obstacles.
  3. Deploy artificial intelligence that adjusts machines without the need for human intervention.
  4. Upgrade staff equipment to ensure easy access to data. This enables value creation in a digital factory setting.

The digital factory movement is one that requires manufacturers to actively ensure its maturity.

5 Key Principles to Ensure the Success of a Digital Factory

Here are the five main principles that will ensure digital factory success:

Ensuring Clear Missions

Digital factory teams need goals that are easy to translate into achievable steps. Teams can be confused and the impact is often minimal. Mission goals need to be clearly defined and have to be in sync with corporate strategies. Good missions are strategic, valuable, and comprehensive:

  • Everyone involved should have a clear idea of what their role is, how they are going to go about it, and how the mission supports the business’s main strategies.
  • Every mission must focus on results with values that are measurable.
  • Missions have to be broad enough to ensure real impact. Teams have to be equipped and allowed to solve any issues that arise across the organizational divide.

Purpose-Driven Collaboration with Essential Functions

Manufacturing companies understand the need for cross-functionality but often do not have processes in place to implement it. One of the main benefits of digital factories is the way their teams can interact and work alongside teams running the company. Digital factory teams are hand-picked, with each member coming in with a specific skill-set that can be utilized for a particular purpose. Such professionals are thoughtfully assigned to particular missions. These individuals work in tandem with those running the company to ensure due diligence at all levels of functioning.

Technology collaboration is especially important because technology forms the largest component of each digital factory team. High levels of mutual accountability are necessary. Done correctly, a digital factory can not only accelerate business but also transform the information technology base of the company.

Balance leadership and team independence

Digital factory teams are the primary ones who do the work of testing and creating for the best possible solution. Leadership in place is simply to define the mission and then give the team a free hand to achieve it.

Such autonomy still requires supervision though. While steering committees are not a part of this system, operating committees are, and they comprise the top brass of management. They ensure the vision of the mission remains intact and can act as a clearinghouse every step of the way. These committees hold regular meetings to ensure that business and team goals are aligned. Balances between leadership and team independence is essential.

Unify the development process with practical business needs

Digital factories serve the needs of businesses. Large companies place them within separate business units; smaller companies use a single unit to serve multiple purposes. Digital factories function as a means of execution for every business owner’s agenda.

To start a digital factory, business leaders have to be clear on their goals and agendas. They must also provide the necessary skilled manpower--placing qualified members into the right teams. All reporting parameters have to be in line with the business goals, and it’s the responsibility of the business leaders to track these on a long-term basis.

Create a proactive command center

The command center’s job is to enable digital factory teams to deliver value. They play the important role of coordination between functionality, ensuring best practices, staff coordination, and the allocation of resources. The lead product owner works with the business lead to regularly oversee the quality of execution, review progress, and ease out bottlenecks. This lead is involved from the beginning to put the team in place and bring them to the auto-pilot stage.

5 Minute Guide to Root Cause Analysis
5 Minute Guide to Root Cause Analysis
Yes, that's all you need, 5 minutes, to read our guide to root cause analysis for discrete manufacturing

Challenges and Solutions in the Implementation of Digital Factories

Industry 4.0 has revolutionized the manufacturing sector, and digital factories are a key part. However, manufacturing businesses can come up against several challenges when trying to digitize their processes:

Reconciling Sources of Data

Massive variability in data sources is a key issue manufacturers struggle with while setting up digital factories. Organizations are also faced with challenges when converging IT and operational technology. Finding the right solutions platform to help balance the various elements of speed, flexibility, and scale can also be difficult. A business will have to look for innovations that address each of these issues to find a solution that best works for them.

Finding the Right Talent

Finding the right talent to implement digital factories is a massive challenge. A professional’s talent has to be domain-specific and many businesses find it hard to get the ideal candidate. This can be addressed by creating talent initiatives that explore different demographics and talent pools. Businesses will have to collaborate with the right educational institutions to find talent early.

The Right Innovation

Innovation is important to setting up digital factories and increasing their performance. However, innovation comes with its own set of challenges. With so many options available today, finding the right disruptive catalyst is difficult. The use of real-time digital performance management can help businesses leverage the right innovative technology.

Implementing the Right Strategies

To foster digital factory formation and implementation, businesses should look for a platform design that covers all the possible risks.

Digital factories are the manufacturing strategies of the future. They can give your organization, the people behind it, and the products you make that dynamic touch, irrespective of global location.