Written by Shambhavi Pandey; edited by Jessica Dolan
Emerging technologies like "The Internet of Things" (IoT), big data, cloud computing, embedded systems, mobile internet, and wireless sensor networks have had a huge impact on the manufacturing environment, ushering the fourth industrial revolution. In 2011, the German government sought to further promote the use of these emerging technologies in manufacturing by means of a strategic initiative called ‘Industrie 4.0’, which was adopted under the ‘High-Tech Strategy 2020 Action Plan’. This revolution of intelligent manufacturing spawned the concept of ‘smart factories’.
A smart factory is a manufacturing solution that provides flexibility with lower costs and adaptive production processes, solving some of the problems that arise at production facilities in a world of increasing complexity. This manufacturing solution is based on automation, a combination of software, hardware, and mechanics, which leads to optimization of production processes, reducing unnecessary labor and wastage of resources. In this article, five state-of-the-art smart factories, which are located around Germany, will be presented, along with some of their key features.
1. The Tesla Gigafactory, Berlin
A better visualization of smart factories can be found in the example of Tesla’s Gigafactory at Grünheide, Berlin. This is the fourth Gigafactory under construction following the ones built in Nevada, Buffalo, and Shanghai. It also happens to be their first Gigafactory in Europe and could prove to be Tesla’s biggest factory yet. The Berlin Gigafactory, which will be launched in 2021, will be the first of its kind, with Tesla promoting it as the most advanced high-volume electric vehicle production plant in the world. It will be used for building batteries, powertrains, and vehicles, starting with model Y and Model 3 on a 300-hectare property in Grünheide, aiming at achieving a future production volume of 500,000 units annually.
Tesla is striving to not only create a car that is smart but also to use smart means of production. The initial pictures of the factory released by company CEO Elon Musk depict their vision of a smart factory with solar panels dominating the rooftop, creating a more sustainable means of production. Its complex systems of producing cars have made headlines in the past but the Berlin Gigafactory will take that up a notch. On its official website, Tesla mentions the use of a new dimension of casting systems and an efficient body shop, pushing forward the boundaries of vehicle safety. The Paint Shop introduces a new generation of color tone depth and complexity. Tesla's constant drive to transform how factories function has allowed them to revolutionize the car industry.
2. Adidas Speed Factory, Ansbach
The desire to create the factory of the future led Adidas to build a speed factory in Ansbach, Germany. With robots assisting humans, the company focused on sneaker-production processes in a single space, thereby completing production in a couple of days and proving their speed theory. Focusing on mass customization with shorter lead times, they use 3D printing technology to easily create digital replicas or mock-ups. Prototypes are quickly printed, facilitating an appropriate response to shifting consumer demands, and satisfying customers’ needs within days. Adidas may have shut down in Ansbach, yet they continue to use the speed factory technologies in the production of their athletic shoes in Asia.
The company claims to have reinvented manufacturing in the footwear industry by replacing human hands in countries like Indonesia, Vietnam and China, by adopting technologies like 3D printing, robotic arms, multi-layered particle machines, laser-cutting robots, and computerized knitting to make running shoes. They now aim to explore the use of 4D technology and other options to modernize its production.
3. The Connected Factory, Bosch, Blaichach
Global manufacturing of automotive technologies such as anti-lock braking systems (ABS) and electronic stability programs (ESP) require efficiency in production and Bosch, at their lead plant in Blaichach, is doing exactly that. Implementing cutting-edge technology of connected manufacturing, the company uses 20 tablets every day to track processes, inspect machines and check parts, data which is overlooked by 150 machine operators at the plant. Bosch’s performance tracker system detects cycle-time deviations of mere milliseconds, enabling operators to react quickly and intervene at the earliest stage possible. Furthermore, an operator support system displays errors and provides recommendations on how to fix them.
Yet another technology is Bosch’s Nexeed, a smart software suite that helps ensure production is running smoothly at their facilities. The company’s connected industry cluster developed this software, which reads out data from 60,000 sensors and timely delivers the relevant information to the appropriate employee. The team thereby keeps track of manufacturing operations in real time, making predictive maintenance possible. Bosch’s worldwide manufacture of ABS/ESP safety systems has seen a productivity jump of 24%, thanks to such skillful innovations.
4. Siemens Elektronikwerk Plant, Amberg
Siemens’ “Elektronikwerk in Amberg” (EWA) was honoured with the Industry 4.0 Award year 2018 in the ‘smart factory’ category, in recognition of the superior Industry 4.0 solutions at their factory. The electronics plant has people, machines, and robots working as a team to produce programmable logic controllers (PLC) of the SIMATIC type. Efforts have been put into this factory to achieve comprehensive networking of machines and products within the facility. The plant utilizes dashboards that consistently work on improving their products and processes. These dashboards also provide information on machine performance and product quality in real time, enabling workers to quickly react to any deviations.
The company depends on Industry 4.0 elements, like collaborative lightweight robots, 3D printing, flexible AGVs, digital twins for production and quality security measures to continuously increase productivity and achieve ambitious cycle times. In addition, features of their MindSphere IoT platform help plant operators to prematurely respond to a potential system failure, facilitating predictive maintenance. Siemens has also been investing in technologies like AI, cloud solutions and Industrial Edge computing to enable a high degree of flexibility, efficiency and reliability in its production sequences.
5. Infineon's Smart Factory, Dresden
The smart factory set-up of Infineon at Dresden wows the world with its intelligent networked manufacturing. The plant has achieved an automation level of 92 percent, with over 200 robots assisting employees. Infineon manufactures over 400 different products based on 200mm and 300mm wafers for all four of the group’s segments, both quickly and in excellent quality. The 200mm line is the world´s most automated factory, while its 300mm line was set up to achieve fully automated production, improving their productivity by 70 percent.
The company´s system controls, wafer transport and production management are linked to each other and controlled in real-time via IT systems. Furthermore, the systems can communicate with other Infineon sites around the world. Transport of the wafers is performed automatically, and the smart factory is controlled via central operating and monitoring systems as well as algorithms. The company optimizes production control by simulating the impact of changes to their product portfolio in advance. This gives them the freedom to flexibly respond to their customers’ needs. Infineon continues to develop new products and solutions for the automotive and power electronics industries whilst investing in the latest technologies like artificial intelligence (AI), attracting attraction for all the right reasons.
The smart factories described above are pioneering examples of a new wave of production. They are the culmination of the digital era of the last 20 years meeting the age-old practice of manufacturing. Smart factories illustrate the growing necessity for smarter production processes, smarter products, and hopefully an even smarter future.
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