7 Key Traits of Smart Metalworking Factories

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digital factory

Building a future-proof business requires a unique skill set to guarantee continuous development and motivation. No single company will be the same. However, there are 7 fundamentals that a metalworking company can start with today.

With today, we mean starting in the current moment to explore opportunities and set up projects that are focused on a dedicated outcome (e.g. to increase a certain throughput, launch a new product, connect certain systems and likewise).

To begin, it’s important to define what a smart factory is. In my opinion, I define those where the systems actively give suggestions on improving the business while reaching unseen effectiveness towards constant changing customer demands.

A digital, smart factory of the future can be recognized by the following properties:

1: Automated.

Any process that has a certain constant and repetitive nature should be automated by default. This will help the business obtain speed and create significant quality improvements in the form of consistency. This can be both software- and hardware-based.

In the short future, we can also expect a rise of the robots with “Co-Bots”, which are co-operating robots that perform tasks of lower value and can quickly switch tasks and assignments.

2: Digitally Connected

Because of the recent major drop in the costs of sensors and electronic components, it’s now possible to record process information. This data gathering on a large-scale will give major insights in the actual performance of the business. Right now, it’s already possible with Arduino processors to create small test projects, with almost no budget.

Do you already have a student working on exploring new data connectivity opportunities?

3: Intelligent

The factory of the future is smart, which can interpret the data that we mentioned in the earlier point, make (advance) decisions in this way and thus interactively generate continuous improvement and innovation. This is a key factor to becoming truly smart. Because data, just like any technology, on itself has absolutely no value for the improvement of the business.

It’s how we interpret the data, and how we ACT on it.

4: Flexible

Customer demands are changing faster than ever before. This huge new change in markets and their solutions are having a major impact on any part of the business. Truly smart factories are not only excellent at automating, but they are also even better in rethinking what works and especially what doesn’t.

What are new demands you’re seeing now in your company? How’re are you responding to these needs?

5: Sustainable

A company can only last as long as it’s ability to provide to the economy and its environment. Yes, you’ve read this right. A business that doesn’t add anything to making this earth a better place will lose the race soon from those that will do.

Let’s start today to deal with resources and energy responsibly.

6: Human-centered

All the mentioned approaches will only have an impact if we train our people decently and activate their talent. People remain the center of the main activities and will make the difference in any field. No matter how smart our tech will be, the people will make it work and can insert their creativity. Personal training will count more than ever before.

A great example of this is called “reverse mentoring” where businesses recently started inviting younger employees (Generation Z) to help older managers to have a better understanding of modern technology.

What’s the average age of your R&D department?

7: Collaboration

Nobody got truly successful on their own. No company ever worked only with their own ideas. We live in the age of open-source developments now. Ideas are floating more freely than ever before.

Truly smart factories are working together with the brightest minds in the industry — and know how to find the right support & mentoring.

How are you collaborating with people in the manufacturing industry? What experts are you involving?

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    About the author
    Luke Van Enkhuizen

    Luke Van Enkhuizen

    Luke van Enkhuizen (pronounced "van ekh-/œy/-zen") is a former mechanical engineer who became an IT consultant who helps sheet metalworking businesses to automate their processes with IT simple solutions– so that everything runs as if by itself.

    He helps factory owners navigate the Fourth Industrial Revolution and understand which IT decision is the right one. He helps them examine the alternatives and provides well-founded advice.

    Luke believes that having just one software for everything in your factory is a bad approach, and often discusses the downsides of buying expensive and large ERP-systems instead of having a factory built up out of specialized software systems integrated through simple and modern integrations.

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