Despite a slowdown in production and demand due to the global COVID-19 pandemic, many businesses are fortunate enough to still be functioning. You may be one of the many business owners looking for creative ways to keep your business thriving and ready to continue operation should another crisis hit.
Smart factories, also known as connected factory systems, are growing in popularity due to their ability to streamline and simplify business systems. They also offer data analysis that implements creative solutions for manufacturing and other business challenges.
What is a smart factory and is it right for your business? Let’s discuss 12 pros and cons of using a smart factory system for your business’ manufacturing or other systems. We’ll also briefly cover the first steps to implementing this kind of system in your business.
12 Pros and Cons of Using a Smart Factory
Trianz defines a smart or connected factory as one that “uses cloud-based services, like storage and analytics, to assess historical trends as well as real-time data collected from manufacturing devices.” With a long list of benefits promoting streamlined business functions and innovative solutions for areas of improvement, a smart factory may provide the edge you’re looking for over your competitors.
To determine whether or not a smart factory is right for your business, it’s important to factor in noticeable concerns about becoming connected. Here are 6 advantages and 6 disadvantages of using a smart factory system in your business:
Reduces workplace injuries
A smart factory is especially sought after because it’s proven to reduce workplace injuries. Workplace injuries are costing U.S. companies on average $95 billion annually in workers’ compensation claims. They’re also the reason for hundreds of thousands of missed workdays each year, which strains overall productivity and company growth.
Assembly lines, material handling, and transport are all examples of tasks that can be automated in some way through the use of smart factory technology. This eliminates the need for employees handling heavy objects, operating heavy machinery, or standing/sitting for long periods that contribute to the breakdown of physical health. If you can eliminate hazardous job functions, you can lessen the Musculoskeletal injuries making up the majority of workers’ injuries and workplace fatalities.
A smart manufacturing process and/or other automated business function can increase productivity by significantly decreasing defects and errors that would otherwise be attributed to human behavior. Implementing a smart factory system would also decrease the amount of money being spent on excessively long production times.
A smart factory can function continuously, also contributing to production growth. Low production times would almost be nonexistent because product fulfillment would be available to consumers more often.
It’s difficult to maintain a quality standard across all products when their assembly is strictly dependent on human workers. Implementing a smart factory system would include a function for product assembly, therefore ensuring your standard for quality is met with each product.
The less money you spend throwing defective merchandise out, the more you’ll have to spend on company growth techniques. You’re able to control the quality of products distributed to consumers because you’re controlling the systems producing the product. Automation in the creation of schedules and production line means an optimized schedule that reduced the number of inefficiencies, defects, and other mishaps. You have more control over how well your product is assembled than if you had to monitor human assembly.
Reduces employee-related costs
Implementing a smart factory system would ultimately lessen the number of workers you would need at your warehouse or office. Aside from energy costs and costs incurred for the use of machinery, having workers on your company grounds is an immense expense.
It would be ideal to hire as many competent employees as you can to contribute to your smart factory running smoothly, but you truly only need a handful of employees to run a smart factory efficiently. You would save money on employee training and the daily expenses associated with keeping full-time and part-time employees.
Being able to identify product defects, customer demand information, and access other real-time data key to an effective manufacturing process is another advantage of using a smart factory. Smart factories use innovative software and technology systems that can spit out data points as they’re happening.
In addition to tracking data in real-time, you’re able to access this data at any time as well. You can track your manufacturing and/or production process from beginning to end and identify any challenges, efficiencies, or gaps along the way. Access to real-time data has the potential to soothe the needs of your customers, employees, and company leaders alike.
Manage the system from anywhere
Because smart factories use cloud-based systems, they can be accessed from anywhere with a viable internet connection, and from any device that can connect to the internet. This offers you the flexibility of managing your smart factory at any time, from any place.
With this flexibility, you can make system updates, initiate a production cycle, reprogram distribution functions, or access manufacturing data from a comfortable location.
As stated above, to determine whether or not a smart factory is right for your business, you should also consider these 6 disadvantages of implementing a smart factory system:
Could take away thousands of jobs
People are already on edge about robots taking over the world, but more realistically, machines taking over their job roles. Unfortunately, implementing a smart factory could take away thousands of jobs because you can automate assembly lines, inventory, and transportation of products in and outside of the warehouse.
You won’t need as many workers as a traditional manufacturing company. Human labor within manufacturing facilities is predicted to hit a wall soon. Adding smart systems and automated processes means less labor, but also highlights a need for highly-skilled employees well-versed in smart factory technology as well as capable of performing labor tasks simultaneously.
One glitch could shut down the entire system
Because smart factory systems are all interconnected, one problem with one part of the technology could potentially shut down the entire system until it is fixed properly. These shutdowns would negatively impact your ability to meet consumer demand and reduce company profit.
It’s especially important to update and maintain these technology-based systems to ensure they run at their highest level, free of potential bugs and defects that make their function improper.
Implementation could be costly
A smart factory runs the best when the ENTIRE facility is run with smart technology and maintained by workers entirely knowledgeable in its best practices. But implementing a complete smart factory system is quite costly.
Implementation costs remain the top reason for companies refraining from making the transition that could vastly improve their entire business. It can also be quite costly to train employees on how to work and maintain a smart factory plant or other automated business systems.
More than one person needs to know the ins and outs of the system
Although using a smart factory system will drastically reduce the number of workers you’ll need on-site, you’ll still need a handful of employees who are well versed in the ins and outs of the system. This will ensure no one employee experiences burnout from the intricacies of running a technology-based business, as well as encourages a level of collaboration necessary to cover all facets of the system.
People could fall ill, leave the company, or take a vacation. You’ll need a sizeable team of individuals that can effectively manage and maintain your smart factory should any of these instances happen. Training each of these employees, offering a full-time employee benefits package, as well as a healthy work-life balance will be costly.
You’ll need to up your cybersecurity
Your smart factory system is entirely reliant on cloud-based technology. Because cloud-based technology can be accessed from any device and place with an internet connection, your cybersecurity system must be high-functioning enough to combat any potential security threats.
Hackers aren’t opposed to infiltrating smart systems that contain important company information like customer demand data, any stored payment information, or manufacturing contact information.
Increases energy use
At first glance, it would seem that automation and smart technology would be a good thing for the health of our planet. But a smart factory may go against any claims of a sustainable brand image.
Running a smart factory would require an increased amount of energy usage, chemicals, and other fuel sources that aren’t helpful to a healthy environment. The efficiency of a smart factory system comes at the cost of being able to use sustainable business practices consistently.
The First Steps to Implementing a Smart Factory System
Implementing a smart factory system to future-proof your business starts with embracing technology and using it as a way to increase employee productivity for tasks that cannot be automated. Create more efficiency in manufacturing practices and other jobs that require high-level productivity. Here are the first steps to implementing a smart factory system in your business:
- Do an audit of your business systems and identify which can be automated without compromising quality and productivity levels.
- Outline the exact software, machinery, training, and maintenance necessary for a quality smart factory system. Pinpoint the costs associated with each.
- Create a budget for manufacturing system updates and other business systems able to be automated. Make sure you’ve decided whether this can be an all-at-once transition or if it would need to be done in phases.
- Ensure you’re network infrastructure and cybersecurity measures are up to date and capable of handling a transition to fully automated systems or smart factory technology.
- Begin narrowing down the professionals you’ll be using to implement a smart factory system into your business.
Utilizing a smart factory for your business can blend data, production, technology, and manufacturing practices, to aid in company growth, increased production, and customer satisfaction. Implementing a smart factory in your business has its challenges, but its impact on business evolution is unmatched.