The Internet of Things is taking the manufacturing world by storm. If you haven’t heard of it by that name, then surely under one of these: Advanced Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0 or Smart Factories. No matter what it’s called, the fourth industrial revolution is pushing the boundaries of high tech in manufacturing. And it’s here to stay.
Large companies have historically had the advantage when it comes to production, benefitting from economies of scale and a larger variety of more expensive or specialized equipment. But with the advent of these groundbreaking smart-factory technologies, those aren’t necessarily the main routes to a competitive advantage anymore.
Smart factories are changing the game
The Internet of Things is putting small businesses on an even playing field with the big guns. Software companies like SAP are increasingly catering to SMEs with smart-factory ERP solutions designed to their specific needs. Adopting this easy-to-implement sensor technology opens up a whole new world of possibilities.
The principle behind it is that everything – every component of what is being manufactured, but also every active part of every machine in the plant – is outfitted with sensors like e.g. RTLS tags, which is tracked by sensors either in the machines themselves or in the factory ceiling. This allows data from every link of the production-planning and manufacturing chain to be seamlessly exchanged in real time.
The applications are endless. Think customized items are costly and time-consuming to produce? Think again. Advanced sensor communication in an automated system enables the high degree of process reliability required for one-off production. When system availability, throughput speed and processing performance are in tune, batch sizes of one can be produced as efficiently as mass-produced goods. This is good news for SMEs, who can overcome the limitations of a smaller factory with faster, more efficient material flows and processes.
New ways of working with sensors
In cooperation with RWTH Aachen University in Germany, SAP, and several other prominent organizations, itelligence has helped develop the Demonstrationsfabrik (demonstration factory). Over the past five years, they have been researching solutions to a critical question asked by many small-business owners: What can I do to harness the power of the digital wave for my company and my customers? Currently, they have three pilot projects on the go.
3D-visualized production support greatly simplifies order assembly for factory technicians. Installation sequences are displayed on mobile devices like smart glasses, and as each step is completed, feedback is automatically generated in the ERP system.
RTLS-based object tracking leverages sensor technology to optimize production processes and material flows. The sensors analyze which stations and tools are in use and when, and adjust parameters accordingly to make effective use of downtime. This leverages the largest benefit of automation – machines don’t need to take breaks!
Pick-by-vision enables even a small workforce to work more productively. Instead of spending time searching for items on their order lists, warehouse employees receive the route and objects to be picked displayed on their smart glasses or other mobile device – so they can locate them as quickly as possible.
All of these scenarios can be integrated into SAP’s ERP system that’s designed specifically for SMEs – making high-output, state-of-the-art production facilities a reality even for smaller businesses.
Interested to see how these scenarios could play out in your factory in the future? Read our expert paper on the strategies and applications of The Internet of Things for SMEs to learn more: