Executives from the manufacturing sector share their views on smart factories and the ability of emerging technologies – including AI, edge computing and the industrial internet of things – to create new business opportunities.
During the “Smart Factories” Transformation Tune-In virtual event, hosted by Dell Technologies and Nvidia on Tuesday, 23 June, a panel of experts came together to discuss changes in manufacturing operations in one of the most challenging years in decades. Russell Duggan-Rees, Digital Manufacturing Chief Technologist for DXC UK kicked it off by saying: “Companies need all the help they can get at this time of increased supply chain challenges and new guidelines around employee safety. Those that are already on the smart factory journey have a significant advantage.”
Stuart Moss, Global IT Innovation Strategist at Rolls-Royce, agreed, “We’ve had elements of smart factory technology for a long time. With recent events, it has been paramount to keep things going, so remote access to keep shop floors active and monitor what is going on has proved invaluable. Despite the downturn, Rolls-Royce has kept manufacturing throughout the process and smart factory technologies allow that. We wouldn’t be able to do it without them.”
Smart manufacturing motivations
Taking the conversation beyond business resilience, Jay Judkowitz, VP Product of Otto Motors – which develops autonomous mobile robots to augment factory processes and free workforces to focus on innovation – said that such technologies can have a transformational effect on productivity and competitiveness.
For Markus Junginger, Partner and Head of Engineering Performance and Strategy at MHP Porsche, changing customer demands are another big motivation for embracing smart factory capabilities: “The automotive industry would love to continue to produce black cars in just one configuration, but mass customisation requirements of customers force the incumbent automotive manufacturers to absorb much more complexity. This complexity can only be absorbed by using digitalisation, from an end-to-end approach, to create data structures that feed a smart and flexible factory.”
Jerry Chen, Business Development, Machine Learning and Data Science lead at Nvidia, agreed that a data focus is key to successful smart factory operations: “There’s so much data being generated today, not just on the factory floor but in the upstream supply chain. The ability to ingest all that data and make it useful by running complex algorithms, on both streaming and archive data, is really critical.”
Smart factory infrastructure
As Field CTO for Dell Technologies Design Solutions, I regularly work with companies who develop the digital ecosystem that enables such data-handling capabilities at the edge. Dell Technologies Design Solutions offers our customers a suite of capabilities to customise our standard portfolio to address specific deployment requirements for OEM customers. This may be just the services we offer, or it could be simple re-branding to a customers’ logo, etc., or it may be up to complex physical, mechanical or electrical customisation to address a customer’s unique requirements. These capabilities enable us address the growth in customer requirements for edge infrastructure, by taking IT solutions normally found in core datacentres and optimising them for the edge, which includes, ruggedising, reducing the physical footprint and the services to enabling our customers to deploy and support them regionally, nationally or globally.
This new and growing edge ecosystem is also evolving into two distinct subsets. The Enterprise Edge, including data centre class systems such as servers, storage, HCI and the Industrial Edge, including rugged client systems such as PC’s and Laptops. Bringing this technology right onto the factory floor enables Smart Factory architectures and accelerates AI solutions, by having systems right where the data is created, offering the lowest latency data access. With the increase in smart systems for optimisation, quality and safety in factories, it is important to store and process data as close as possible to where it is created.
Data is now the lifeblood of smart factories. In the past, data was just a part if the factory’s IT infrastructure, but today it is now definitely part of the factory’s OT infrastructure and this new role is at the heart of Digital Transformation and is enabling successful and sustainable changes in business strategies. My colleague Todd Edmunds, Director of Industrial IoT Strategy and Solution Architecture for Dell Technologies, rounded off the discussion by noting: “If you consider smart factory technologies in total, if all of those are implemented, just think of the efficiencies and how that would change manufacturing from where we are today.”
The key is investing in the right infrastructure to make that happen, knowing that those efficiencies are going to come, and making the business case from that point of view.
Discover more – watch the replay of “Smart Factories” here (registration required).