Pho­to credits: IDSA / Lutz Kam­pert

The Connected Factory (Part 1/3)

by Ralf Keu­per

As the plat­form eco­no­my con­ti­nues to pro­pel the digi­tal trans­for­ma­ti­on across all indus­tries, exis­ting value chains are reaching their limits. With pro­duct ori­en­ta­ti­on incre­a­singly being repla­ced by ser­vice ori­en­ta­ti­on, and with more and more manu­fac­tu­rers tur­ning into ope­ra­tors, the princip­le of ‘ship and for­get’ no lon­ger seems an appro­pria­te approach. Ins­tead, manufacturers/operators find them­sel­ves exch­an­ging all kinds of data and infor­ma­ti­on not just with their part­ners, but also with their cus­to­mers, who are all inte­gra­ted in the company’s value chain. As fac­to­ries beco­me incre­a­singly con­nec­ted, they beco­me smar­ter and smar­ter.

IDS Laun­ching Coali­ti­on is ent­e­ring the next pha­se

The IDS Laun­ching Coali­ti­on is a dedi­ca­ted dri­ver of this deve­lo­p­ment. The IDS Laun­ching Coali­ti­on is an asso­cia­ti­on of thir­ty-one IDSA mem­ber orga­niz­a­ti­ons set­ting its­elf the goal of deve­lo­ping IDS-based pro­ducts and ser­vices in various domains to enter the mar­ket by Sep­tem­ber 2020. The­se pro­ducts and ser­vices will enab­le com­pa­nies to make data avail­ab­le to other com­pa­nies upon pay­ment of a fee – and without losing con­trol and sov­er­eig­n­ty over their data. Fur­ther­mo­re, the pro­ducts and ser­vices will faci­li­ta­te secu­re exchan­ge of data bet­ween com­pa­nies. Good data qua­li­ty, as well as sys­tem inter­ope­ra­bi­li­ty (even across dif­fe­rent indus­tries), will be ensu­red by an inter­na­tio­nal­ly appro­ved stan­dard: the IDS Con­nec­tor, the cen­tral tech­ni­cal com­po­nent of IDS.

Secu­re data exchan­ge will be the cen­tral pre­con­di­ti­on of any IoT app­li­ca­ti­on – and, the­re­fo­re, also of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry. Befo­re we take a clo­ser look at the dis­tinc­ti­ve fea­tures of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry, let’s go back in time for a moment …

A quick look back in histo­ry

In 1985, Micha­el Por­ter and Vic­tor Mil­lar publis­hed an arti­cle named How Infor­ma­ti­on Gives You Com­pe­ti­ti­ve Advan­ta­ge, describ­ing the phe­no­me­non of infor­ma­ti­on and data incre­a­singly pene­tra­ting com­pa­nies’ value chains. Back in tho­se days, the com­mer­cial and indus­tri­al inter­net were still far away. Nevertheless, Por­ter and Mil­lar sta­ted a gro­wing impor­t­ance of infor­ma­ti­on and data in mul­ti­ple indus­tries – such as logistics, whe­re com­pa­nies were facing a lot of dif­fe­rent infor­ma­ti­on in the form of deli­very dates, freight rates, pro­duc­tion plans, and so on. Cus­to­mer ser­vice had to cope with infor­ma­ti­on regar­ding ser­vice requi­re­ments, on-site cus­to­mer care, time­ly order of spa­re parts, etc.; and pro­duc­tion had to get to grips with infor­ma­ti­on on qua­li­ty inspec­tion data used to opti­mi­ze pro­duct design and manu­fac­tu­ring pro­ces­ses, and much more.

Fac­to­ries in times of Indus­try 4.0 = con­nec­ted fac­to­ries

In the era of Indus­try 4.0, fac­to­ries as we know them will turn into smart fac­to­ries, allowing manu­fac­tu­rers to adapt pro­duc­tion in order to meet the needs of mass cus­to­miz­a­ti­on (i.e. batch-size-one pro­duc­tion). Ther­eby, it will be pos­si­ble for manu­fac­tu­rers to switch pro­duc­tion pro­grams vir­tual­ly in real time (i.e. without a con­si­derable amount of set­up time) by means of ‘plug and work’ (i.e. build-to-order pro­duc­tion).

Gre­at pro­gress has been made in this area of Indus­try 4.0 in recent years – main­ly with the help of 3D prin­ting and robo­tics. One examp­le is Wilo Smart Fac­to­ry, a digi­ta­li­zed pro­duc­tion faci­li­ty ope­ra­ted by Wilo, a world­wi­de lea­ding manu­fac­tu­rer of indus­tri­al pump sys­tems loca­ted in Dort­mund. Ano­t­her examp­le is Smart­Fac­to­ryOWL, an Indus­try 4.0 rese­arch and demons­tra­ti­on fac­to­ry loca­ted in the city of Lem­go, which is run by Fraun­ho­fer IOSB-INA and Ost­west­fa­len-Lip­pe Uni­ver­si­ty of App­lied Sci­en­ces. ‘Smart­Fac­to­ryOWL is not just about cus­to­mi­zed pro­duc­tion and how we are going to manu­fac­tu­re goods in the future; it is also about hea­vi­ly invol­ving the cus­to­mer in the pro­duct crea­ti­on pro­cess, and about deve­lo­ping data-dri­ven busi­ness models,’ says Prof. Jür­gen Jas­per­n­ei­te of Fraun­ho­fer IOSB-INA. ‘To meet the customer’s needs, appro­pria­te com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on infra­st­ruc­tures are requi­red, inclu­ding a con­sis­tent data foun­da­ti­on.’ The rese­ar­chers from Dort­mund aim to achie­ve this by com­bi­ning Pro­duct Lifecy­cle Manage­ment (PLM) and App­li­ca­ti­on Lifecy­cle Manage­ment (ALM) solu­ti­ons.

Pro­duc­tion stee­red by smart objects

In the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry, each object to be pro­ces­sed car­ri­es the infor­ma­ti­on requi­red for pro­ces­sing with it. At cer­tain check­points in the pro­duc­tion and mate­ri­al flow pro­cess, the smart object iden­ti­fies its­elf against the respec­ti­ve machi­ne with the help RFID, OCR, or bar­code tech­no­lo­gy. Only after this iden­ti­fi­ca­ti­on is it allo­wed to send the infor­ma­ti­on it car­ri­es to the machi­ne, or recei­ve new infor­ma­ti­on from the machi­ne. For all the­se objects and machi­nes to speak the same lan­guage, stan­dards are requi­red. An examp­le of such a stan­dard is OPC UA (OPC Uni­fied Archi­tec­tu­re), allowing to con­nect pro­duc­tion con­trol and other func­tions with enter­pri­se IT sys­tems. OPC UA ther­eby has the poten­ti­al to be used as a com­mu­ni­ca­ti­on lay­er in Indus­try 4.0 app­li­ca­ti­on sce­n­a­ri­os on a broad sca­le.

The con­nec­ted fac­to­ry, inte­gra­ted in cross-com­pa­ny value net­works

Alrea­dy today, pre­dic­ti­ve main­ten­an­ce allows ana­ly­zing and eva­lua­ting machi­ne data with regard to devia­ti­ons and irre­gu­la­ri­ties; if a wea­ring part is found to be defec­ti­ve and needs to be exch­an­ged, the order pro­cess is trig­ge­red auto­ma­ti­cal­ly, redu­cing machi­ne down­ti­me to a mini­mum. This pro­cess inclu­des several par­ties – the cus­to­mer (i.e. the manu­fac­tu­rer ope­ra­ting the machi­ne), the part manu­fac­tu­rer (with its on-site cus­to­mer ser­vice), the who­le­sa­ler deli­vering the part, and the banks invol­ved in the finan­cial tran­sac­tion. What used to be a simp­le value chain has tur­ned into a com­plex value net­work, in which the flow of infor­ma­ti­on is not line­ar any­mo­re (i.e. from the part manu­fac­tu­rer to the who­le­sa­ler to the cus­to­mer), but whe­re infor­ma­ti­on flows back (e.g. from the cus­to­mer to the who­le­sa­ler). This results in a clo­sed loop, with the auto­ma­ti­on pyra­mid adap­ting to the incre­a­sing magnitu­de of con­nec­ted­ness occur­ring in con­nec­ted fac­to­ries in times of Indus­try 4.0. As a con­se­quence, data does not have to pass one sta­ge at a time, but can be sent direct­ly to whe­re it is requi­red – without the need for being pro­ces­sed at some inter­me­dia­te level.

Today, con­su­mers want to be direct­ly invol­ved in the pro­duct crea­ti­on pro­cess. They want the pro­duct they orde­red to be at their dis­po­sal right away. It is expec­ted that con­su­mers will incre­a­singly take advan­ta­ge of 3D prin­ting tech­no­lo­gy in order to pro­du­ce what they need them­sel­ves. When orde­ring capi­tal goods and equip­ment, manu­fac­tu­rers’ pro­cu­re­ment depart­ments demand more or less the same cus­to­mer expe­ri­ence con­su­mers have beco­me used to when orde­ring arti­cles online (e.g. via This trend is being deno­ted with terms such as ‘indus­tri­al con­su­me­rism’ or ‘ama­zo­ni­fi­ca­ti­on; in view of coro­na­vi­rus tur­bu­lence and its con­se­quen­ces for busi­ness, it seems very likely that it will sus­tain.

If you want to fol­low our jour­ney sub­scri­be to our IDSA news­let­ter, fol­low #IDS­g­o­Li­ve on Twit­ter and Lin­kedIn, and come back to this blog fre­quent­ly.