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What is a Connected Factory? Emerging Use Cases & Benefits

What is a connected factory?

A connected factory uses digital technology, sensors, and cloud-based storage to allow for seamless sharing of information. This real-time data gathered helps factories improve productivity, efficiency, and yields.

Connected factories are just a part of the fourth industrial revolution, or industry 4.0. These “smart” or connected factories exploit existing IT infrastructure, combining it with new technologies such as IoT sensors, private 5G, and artificial intelligence (AI) to drive innovation, reduce costs, and improve operational performance.

Benefits of Connected Factories

Both staff and business owners can benefit from smarter, more connected factories. From automation to advanced insights, let’s explore the benefits that drive the demand for connected factories.

Advanced Combined Insights

Connected factories have myriad more opportunities to collect and process data through the use of IoT sensors. These small yet powerful sensors monitor and collect data on everything from moisture and temperature and location vibration and conductivity. When processed, this data is used to glean new insights not previously possible to help businesses better understand operations and discover opportunities for growth and efficiency.

With advanced analytics, businesses can see insights across all of their factories or filter by individual locations. This gives enterprise operations a holistic and scalable view of their operations at any given time.

More Efficient Logistics

Before the days of IoT sensors, logistics, operational and IT teams were often left with numerous blind spots in their tracking process, leaving room for wide margins of error. 

Today, connected factories can track a product from inception to delivery through a wide range of sensors and wireless mediums. Improved logistics help businesses accurately track their production rate, manufacturing schedule, and shipping times.

Factory Automation and Orchestration

Perhaps one of the biggest benefits of connected factories is the potential for automation. Rather than relying on human input, artificial intelligence can make intelligent data-driven decisions in real-time based on events that happen on the factory floor.

For example, sensors monitoring oil levels and temperature can create a maintenance request if conditions drift too far from an acceptable level. This same logic can be applied to more immediate situations. For instance, if temperature levels rapidly rise in a controlled environment automation can be used to quickly activate a backup HVAC and alert maintenance to the problem.

Improving Worker Safety

Smarter, more connected factories can mean safer working conditions for all staff. While robotics may replace more mundane tasks, they can also be used to aid factory line workers to improve their efficiency and make the task safer. In cases like smart mining, robots can replace dangerous jobs entirely, freeing up staff to work on other tasks.

Connected Factory Use Cases

With some of the core benefits covered, let’s dive into how factories are using this new technology to improve operational productivity.

Cycle Time Monitoring

Increasingly more factories are leveraging big data to forecast everything from production times to machine lifecycles. This is possible thanks to smart sensors placed across the factory floor as well as on tools and the products themselves.

Smart factories with CNC machines have begun using sensors to detect vibrations rather than having staff check the vibrations manually at set intervals. This continuous monitoring eliminates the need for manual checks and dramatically improves the machine’s uptime and reliability over the course of its lifetime.

Creating a Digital Twin

Digital twins are like computer simulations but powered by real data created from the product. For example, IoT sensors can collect data on an engine such as temperature levels, firing times, and revolutions. This real data can be applied to a digital simulation of that same engine where engineers can conduct experiments, perform tests, and innovate new ideas.

Having a digital twin of your product allows you to create digital replicas with a higher degree of accuracy than standard simulations. This allows businesses to improve products and innovate in an almost limitless amount of ways.

Quality Management

Traditionally, quality assurance(QA) has been performed by humans with specialized tools that measure and ensure consistency across the manufacturing process. Now with connected factories businesses are leveraging artificial intelligence and environmental sensors to perform quality assurance.

For instance, sensors measuring tightness can ensure each bolt is tightened to the required tension. These automated checks, often requiring network connectivity, work continuously 24/7 without the need for a human operator. 

Data Centralization

During the start of the digital revolution, factories were among the first businesses to start implementing networking and computer technologies. But over the years, many businesses developed a complex patchwork of tools, software, and systems that drive their processes.

In an effort to reduce complexity and cost, connected factories use data centralization to eliminate islands of data and manage all aspects of the business in a single pane. With the emergence of new private 5G networks factories can now create their own mobile network infrastructure across all locations to collect data on everything from HVAC machines to room lighting.

Once collected, that data is stored and transformed on local or cloud-based servers for processing and review. Centralized data makes everything from helpdesk tasks to scaling new sites a faster and more efficient process.

Connected Factory Challenges

While connected factories offer many benefits they aren’t without their challenges, let’s review some of the most common challenges paired with some viable solutions.

Complex Supply Chains

Complex supply chains can make developing a connected factory cumbersome without proper planning and the right technology. For instance, using best-effort Wi-Fi to support communication when cellular can provide more deterministic connectivity can leave businesses with blind spots or reliability problems.

The good news is that even the most complex factories can take advantage of the connected factory model. Companies like Celona offer a fully integrated private 5G wireless solution to help implement predictable private 5G performance and coverage to act as the backbone of your connected factory.

Unlike other products, Celona’s solution integrates directly with existing enterprise  IT infrastructure and IP domain structures without interfering with current production This allows for a more seamless integration between your smart devices, the network and applications.

Support For Analog Machines

Businesses are put in a tough position when it comes time to update their machines. In many cases, older analog machines may still work, but lack any connectivity that allows them to collect essential data. Replacing these machines can be costly, resulting in significant factory disruption and downtime.

Luckily, connected factories can still have analog machines and benefit from big data. Industrial IoT sensors can leverage Wi-FI, LTE or5G for communication without requiring any connectivity from the machine itself. These sensors are often low-power, and even support ultra-power options for remote environments.

Network Performance

Without planning and knowledge of each wireless medium, connected factories can suffer from communication lag, delays, and inaccurate data. Deterministic Connectivity and performance is critical to factories, especially when maintaining specific performance service levels.

Recent advancements in 5G technology and the use of cellular spectrum have made it easier for factories to gain greater control of vital resources and processes dependent on network technology. Celona’s 5G LAN platform uses these patented advancements to put businesses back in control of their network’s reliability, reach and performance.

Beyond defining QoS for applications and devices on a per subnet basis, subnt, connected factories using Celona’s 5G LAN system now create service level traffic handling rules that can be dynamically enforced for each application or device group. to ensure service levels are always met.  

Plug And Play Connected Factories With Celona

Celona's turnkey 5G LAN solution includes plug and play indoor and outdoor small cell access points, pSIM and eSIM cards, core control software and cloud-based orchestration that can be installed throughout the factory in hours, not days, weeks or months – something unheard of in today’s wireless world. 

Celona uses cloud networking principles to make private 5G deployments an out-of-box experience for any IT staff. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.

So If you’re looking to design or improve your connected factory, Celona can help. Check out our network planner to estimate the size of your 5G LAN on private cellular spectrum, or test-drive Celona’s unique solution for yourself with a free trial.

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See a Celona 5G LAN in action and learn the basics

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