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Smart Factories – Driving sustainability through innovation

One of the biggest reasons behind the growth of smart manufacturing is the fact that it can be attributed to surveying workplace efficiency and safety and well-being of associated human resource. One of the foremost tangible aspects of sustainability is reduced wastage and increased efficiency. This has been the primary focus for the adopters of smart systems done through data research and intelligent learning automation.

For example, access cards connected with chip and WiFi to monitor which operator works on which machine in a given time. It can also have far reaching impacts on monitoring and reporting of productivity and related analyses.

An intelligent, interconnected ‘smart’ system can be established to set a performance target, determine if the target is obtainable, and identify inefficiencies through failed or delayed performance targets. In general, automation may alleviate inefficiencies due to human error. And in general, evolving AI eliminates the inefficiencies of its predecessors.

The question however still remains. How is smart technology and manufacturing going to help companies enhance their sustainability aspects tomorrow? Studies estimate that plant will be more energy efficient than other factories and will use significantly less water.

For example, the smart factory built by Renault in Tangiers, Morocco, has been estimated to have reduced CO2 emission by almost half. This was done by close monitoring to ensure that effluents are managed and properly controlled and not released in to nearby water bodies untreated.

In addition, energy procurement was shifted to consider predominantly renewable resources with particular emphasis on solar and hydro power generation. 

When we talk about being more sustainable, we tend to think in terms of conservation of energy or reduction in energy loss. The smart factories encompass the smart practices in areas of digitization and others that can contribute to sustainability in manufacturing.  

Smart manufacturing is a broad category of manufacturing that employs computer-integrated manufacturing, high levels of adaptability and rapid design changes, digital information technology, and more flexible technical workforce training. It also include provisions to account fast changes in production levels based on demand, optimization of the supply chain, efficient production and recyclability.

In this concept, as smart factory has interoperable systems, multi-scale dynamic modelling and simulation, intelligent automation, strong cyber security, and networked sensors. Smart factories, and smart manufacturing in general have been known to use technologies like big data, interconnected devices and services like IoT, AI for forecasting and optimization and advanced robotics.

The advent of the digital factory has improved quality, improved use of components, improved life of components, reduced cost, and made the time from conception to product very short. Coupled with other innovations in technology, like lean method of operation, interconnected equipment (IoT) and artificial intelligence, we can transform the manufacturing and operations industry in a way that contributes directly to sustainability goals of the nation.