The Connected Factory (Part 3/3)

By Ralf Keu­per

Manu­fac­tu­ring in the era of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry

The con­nec­ted fac­to­ry is a mani­fes­ta­ti­on of the shift toward a ser­vice-ori­en­ted socie­ty, in which the ser­vices and rela­ti­ons­hips con­nec­ted with a pro­duct are more important to cus­to­mers than the pro­duct its­elf. In their book “The Con­nec­ted Com­pa­ny”, Dave Gray and Tho­mas Van­der Wal wri­te: “The pro­duct-dri­ven eco­no­my is giving way to a new, cus­to­mer-cen­te­red world in which com­pa­nies will pro­sper by deve­lo­ping rela­ti­ons­hips with cus­to­mers – by lis­tening to them, adap­ting, and respon­ding to their wants and needs.”

The con­cept of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry has been the sub­ject of rese­arch and publi­ca­ti­ons as ear­ly as in the 1970s and 80s (e.g. the frac­tal fac­to­ry or com­pu­ter-inte­gra­ted manu­fac­tu­ring, CIM). It wasn’t until the end of the 2010s, howe­ver, that the necessa­ry pro­ces­sing capa­ci­ties and band­widths were avail­ab­le to turn this visi­on into rea­li­ty. It is now pos­si­ble to rede­em the pro­mi­se of “mass cus­to­miz­a­ti­on”.

This deve­lo­p­ment ent­ails a vast incre­a­se in the num­ber of pro­duct vari­ants. At Wilo Smart Fac­to­ry, for examp­le, pro­duct vari­an­ce amounts to 1,6. In the case of the pump sys­tem manu­fac­tu­rer, the smart fac­to­ry con­cept main­ly aims at coping with the degree of com­ple­xi­ty and vari­an­ce in pro­duc­tion. To be able to do so, data from pro­duc­tion (i.e. MES data) and logistics must be made avail­ab­le in real time. For the future, Wilo aims at inten­si­fy­ing inter­ac­tion with cus­to­mers with the help of apps and/or on the basis of new busi­ness models (e.g. “rent-a-pump”, “pay-as-you-use”).

The future in manu­fac­tu­ring will be domi­na­ted by 3D prin­ting and addi­ti­ve manu­fac­tu­ring, allowing manu­fac­tu­rers to pro­du­ce even com­plex pro­ducts in low quan­ti­ty. Ther­eby, it will be pos­si­ble for manu­fac­tu­rers to switch pro­duc­tion pro­grams very quick­ly (i.e. without a con­si­derable amount of set­up time). Inst­ruc­tions for the manu­fac­tu­re of a cer­tain pro­duct can be pro­vi­ded via soft­ware, repre­sen­ting a new level of auto­ma­ti­on.

Unfor­tu­n­a­te­ly, the­re are still obsta­cles and pro­blems that are impe­ding effi­ci­ent imple­men­ta­ti­on of the con­cept of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry. Next­GenAM is a pro­ject that inves­ti­ga­tes the­se obsta­cles and pro­blems – and how they can be over­co­me. The ambi­tious goal is to enab­le manu­fac­tu­rers to pro­du­ce pro­ducts for which they actual­ly have no exper­ti­se at all (e.g. a car manu­fac­tu­rer swit­ching pro­duc­tion toward the manu­fac­tu­re of pre­scrip­ti­on drugs). This would have a huge effect on ent­i­re natio­nal eco­no­mies, as they would beco­me more sov­er­eign and inde­pen­dent – an important aspect in view of gro­wing digi­tal pro­tec­tio­n­ism.

As ser­vice ori­en­ta­ti­on will incre­a­singly be the new para­digm, the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry stands for a shift away from mere pro­cess ori­en­ta­ti­on. Unli­ke pro­ces­ses, ser­vices are con­ti­nuous­ly deve­lo­ped by manu­fac­tu­ring com­pa­nies in col­la­bo­ra­ti­on with their cus­to­mers. Gray and Van­der Wal in „The Con­nec­ted Com­pa­ny“: “While pro­ces­ses are desi­gned to be con­sis­tent and uni­form, ser­vices are co-crea­ted with cus­to­mers each and every time a ser­vice is ren­de­red. This dif­fe­rence is not super­fi­cial but fun­da­men­tal.“


The con­nec­ted fac­to­ry repres­ents a para­digm shift in manu­fac­tu­ring. Con­nec­ted fac­to­ries are embed­ded in value crea­ting net­works, in which data and infor­ma­ti­on is exch­an­ged and shared bet­ween com­pa­nies and across indus­tries. Such inter­con­nec­tion is necessa­ry to meet incre­a­singly com­plex cus­to­mer needs in real time. Once iso­la­ted pro­duc­tion sites ther­eby not only get more tight­ly con­nec­ted to partners/suppliers, but also inten­si­fy inter­ac­tion with cus­to­mers. The new para­digm beco­mes appa­rent in mul­ti­ple, dif­fe­rent sce­n­a­ri­os, such as pre­dic­ti­ve main­ten­an­ce, wind­parks, or har­ve­s­ting (smart far­ming).

Qui­te (un-)surprisingly, the big­gest chal­len­ge in the imple­men­ta­ti­on of the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry is not a pre­do­mi­nant­ly tech­no­lo­gi­cal one, but one that rela­tes to aspects such as trust, inte­gri­ty, or respon­si­bi­li­ty. How can the iden­ti­ty and trust­wort­hi­ness of sup­pliers be veri­fied across the ent­i­re data sup­ply chain? How can data inte­gri­ty be gua­ran­te­ed? How can the iden­ti­ty of machi­nes exch­an­ging data with a con­nec­ted fac­to­ry be veri­fied? To make the con­nec­ted fac­to­ry a suc­cess sto­ry on a broad sca­le, trus­ted net­works are requi­red – like the one made pos­si­ble by IDS. IDS pro­vi­des an accep­ted, inter­na­tio­nal stan­dard to veri­fy digi­tal iden­ti­ties (of humans, orga­niz­a­ti­ons, and things), ensu­re data inte­gri­ty, pro­vi­de cer­ti­fi­ca­ti­on (of par­ti­ci­pants and tech­ni­cal com­pon­ents), and trace data pro­ven­an­ce.

Being able to estab­lish trus­ted vir­tu­al net­works is cri­ti­cal for new busi­ness eco­sys­tems to emer­ge – both domain-spe­ci­fic and cross-indus­try. This will lead to the dis­se­mi­na­ti­on of new, digi­tal busi­ness models, many of which are still rudi­men­ta­ri­ly imple­men­ted today. The ques­ti­on as to which tech­no­lo­gy is deemed to be most sup­por­ti­ve in this endea­vor, is rather of secon­da­ry impor­t­ance. From today’s per­spec­ti­ve, it can be sta­ted that block­chain tech­no­lo­gy (com­bi­ned with solu­ti­ons for self-manage­ment of digi­tal iden­ti­ties of humans, orga­niz­a­ti­ons, and machi­nes) appears to be (most) sui­ta­ble to estab­lish trus­ted vir­tu­al busi­ness eco­sys­tems.

The con­nec­ted fac­to­ry will be at the core of this deve­lo­p­ment. Being a cen­tral ele­ment of the data eco­no­my, it will help pro­mo­te the princip­le of data sov­er­eig­n­ty gua­ran­te­ed for all par­ties across the data value chain. Fur­ther­mo­re, con­nec­ted fac­to­ries will con­tri­bu­te to the incre­a­se of orga­niz­a­tio­nal intel­li­gence – i.e. the capa­bi­li­ty of orga­niz­a­ti­ons to cap­tu­re and pro­cess exter­nal infor­ma­ti­on.

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.