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Cloud, Edge and 5G Technologies Bring Smart Factories To Life

What if you could not only predict the future but correct events before they go awry? Like performing automatic, on-the-road maintenance on your car before it ever breaks down? Or stopping yourself from saying the wrong thing in a meeting by predicting the audience’s reaction?

Industry 4.0 promises to do just that within manufacturing by creating what many are calling smart or intelligent factories.

“A lot of manufacturing engineers’ time is spent running around the plant, reacting to problems, looking for the data and grabbing data off the machines in a forensic investigation to figure out what happened yesterday,” explains David Meek, who leads IBM’s Global Center of Competence for Industry 4.0 and Factory of the Future.

“Industry 4.0,” he continued, “allows us to focus less on yesterday and more on figuring out what’s going to happen tomorrow. We want to affect that outcome while giving manufacturing engineers insights on what’s going on in real time.”

What makes these factories intelligent is their ability to marry new and existing technologies to create machinery that’s as proactive and predictive as the best workers. Among the most crucial measures in this work are cloud computing, edge devices, and 5G connectivity, which can combine to supercharge real-time decision-making and improved quality assurance throughout the line.

Cloud and edge don’t exist in isolation, though—there’s a symbiotic relationship between them. Using the unlimited resources available on the cloud, AI models can continuously update and adapt to situations within the factory (which is effectively the edge of the network). This virtuous feedback loop not only delivers real-time results but also ongoing improvement over time, as the entire system learns and improves from prior experiences.

And it’s not just the machinery that performs better, but the engineers working alongside them. “Engineers are no longer driving in the dark,” said Tomi-Pekka Lehtonen, executive partner and connected manufacturing global leader for IBM Services.

This is a big deal because cost-savings can be tremendous. One in four firms surveyed in a recent ITIC report found that a single hour of plant downtime could cost upwards of USD 1 million to as much as USD 5 million.

And just how quickly are factories getting smarter?

“Faster than we can imagine,” according to Lehtonen. High-volume industries like automotive and consumer products are accelerating in particular, given that any efficiency in production makes a big and immediate impact. In fact, intelligent manufacturing can facilitate improvement in production defect detection by as much as 50 percent, and improvement in yields by 20 percent.

One crucial lesson from the COVID-19 era is that cost-effective digital manufacturing solutions are needed to keep factories and supply chains running smoothly while producing high-quality products: whether OEM, parts or assembly supplier, contract manufacturer or manufacturing services supplier.

A single production line can generate more than 70 terabytes of big data per day – yet most data remain currently unanalyzed. Hybrid cloud embeds the latest next level information technologies like AI, edge computing and cybersecurity to efficiently extract value and act on this untapped data at the point of need, especially when speed and data latency are critical factors.

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