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Smart Production: Constructing a Smart Factory by Integrating Information and Equipment
"Smart Manufacturing" is a developing trend in the industrial automation industry. It helps automated industries around the world achieve higher production efficiency and quality, faster customization capability, and also shortens product development time. These factors are critical for manufacturers to maintain their competitive advantages in the market and to withstand competitors.
The primary concept in “Smart Manufacturing” is building a “Smart Factory”. A “Smart Factory” must include two factors:
Automation: Automated equipment and plant
- Manufacturing Intelligence: A variety of manufacturing information systems which are mutually integrated and are capable of coordinating and controlling all equipment to execute and optimize the whole production processes.
Since the revolution of Industry 3.0, equipment automation solutions have been widely implemented in the worldwide manufacturing industries. Manufacturing Intelligence is known as a transformation path and the next step toward Smart Production, but most people are still puzzled about how to construct an intelligent manufacturing information system. This article gives a brief introduction to the integration engineering of all manufacturing information systems in a smart factory.
First, simulate the operation of a smart factory:
1. Ideal Operational Scenario for a Smart Factory Order Receiving: Upon receiving an order from the customer, the Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) automatically generates a work order and estimates the amount of materials required and compares it with the material stock available.
2. Material Preparation: Next, it uses Supply Chain Management (SCM) to act according to the order contents and available stock, and then issues a purchase order to the material supplier.
3. Production Scheduling: Advanced Planning and Scheduling (APS) gathers information such as available personnel, equipment, raw materials and the current production resource status and begins the production scheduling process.
4. Production Execution: The Manufacturing Execution System (MES) acts according to the APS to complete the scheduling, commands and dispatches to the whole plant storage for storage, transportation, and production equipment used for production.
5. Visualization: All equipment and machines in the factory are linked through Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) to monitor status, production, material consumption, measurements and testing, process parameters and information which is provided to the MES for further scheduling production. The APC adjusts the equipment parameters, and finally the EDA provides process analysis improvement.
In a smart factory, manufacturing is executed by the automated equipment and information systems, which are fully integrated. The factory personnel’s role here is to configure the operational procedures and control criteria and further optimize these procedures and criteria based on the management analysis of the information provided by the information systems.
Up to this point, you might think that building a Smart Factory is not so simple. It requires the incorporation of automation technology, digital information, and a well-planned system with the thorough integration of all information and equipment. So what is the complete information system architecture of a Smart Factory?
According to the ISA-95 international standard from the International Society of Automation (ISA), there are 5 parts or levels of a “Manufacturing Control System” in a smart factory.
The Information Technology and Structure of a Smart Factory – ISA-95 Level 1 Sensing and Manipulating the Production Process: The sensors, PLC and controllers in the machine are integrated to become the sensor and control system. The sensors gather all equipment information such as the active status, process parameters, product testing parameters and more. The information is provided to the equipment to begin the process control and is at the same time linked to the information layer for further analysis and management. For the smart manufacturing trend, the two main focuses are to be able to easily implement sensors with communication capabilities and to have RFID/barcode scanners installed in the equipment to identify item part numbers and loads.
Level 2 Supervising, Monitoring, and Controlling the Production Process: SCADA is used to control and monitor the production process. At the same time, it sorts and saves big data collected from level 1 and sends it to level 3 for management analysis. Up to this level, the system is equipped with smart decision making functions, such as presets for production parameters, recipes and procedures of different products in machines, configuration of the shortest motion distances, space utilization, and more. A recently popular function, an early fault warning and diagnosis system, is also present in this layer. Governments are now promoting smart machines that focus on constructing level 1 and level 2 and provide the equipment with the five capabilities of product identification, data collection, smart decision, self-diagnosis and communication with other devices.
Level 3 Manufacturing Operations Management: This phase refers to all management systems used to facilitate the management of the operations and manufacturing process. MES plays the major role in this area as it provides current operation status and information for decision makers to improve production efficiency.
The MES system obtains monitoring and supervisory information from level 2 and uses it to control and manipulate the production equipment and facilities. At the same time it tracks and documents the production data, such as the transformation of raw materials into finished goods, and provides levels 3 and 4 for next step analysis. Another system that is widely adopted is the Advanced Planning & Scheduling Process (APS) which is used to plan and schedule production based on available raw materials, labor and plant capacity. The APS system receives order information and supply status from the ERP system and production and facilities status from the MES system. At the same time it provides production schedules to the MES system for manufacturing.
Level 4 Business Planning & Logistics, and Level 5 Business Management: This phase is in charge of the information system for enterprise operation management, planning, and logistic operations. The main idea is for the ERP to provide work orders and material information to the MES and APS systems in level 3, and at the same time gather information from the MES, such as working hours of operators and equipment, the number of finished goods sent to storage, the number of defects or waste, material consumption and more, to calculate the overall production performance and cost.
Other management systems such as Production Lifecycle Management (PLM), use computer auxiliary and aid modules to simulate new product designs to save time and cost. These design files can be further converted into process programs that can be provided to the CNC machining center control system to execute the automated machining process.
In conclusion, the devices used in a smart factory become more intelligent as levels increase. Since each level performs different roles and tasks, the devices used have transformed from simple sensor or detection devices to a more intelligent management level system to fulfill the needs of the final level, business management. Every level interacts with its top and bottom layers, having complete integrated information to accomplish total enterprise level monitoring.
Now we have the concepts needed to construct a smart factory, but in reality, the first thing most manufacturers do before integrating the machines with the manufacturing information systems is to make the machines or equipment smart by implementing automation and intelligent technology. What is the strategy that businesses need for the tough road towards smart production?
Two suggestions: First, return to the basics of the problem—what kind of investment can best increase your business competitiveness? Investing in smart manufacturing can be very costly, and there are still many areas that need improvement. Manufacturers need to assess the investment return rate of each section and decide on the implementation priority. For example, if a labor shortage is the main problem in your factory, the first task would probably be to adopt automation technology and robots. If increasing efficiency and quality by improving manufacturing management is the top priority, implementing an MES system might be the most effective solution. The second recommendation is to keep system integration capabilities as one of the purchasing factors when buying new equipment or information systems. It would be wise to build integration interfaces with existing equipment and information in the factory at the same time, or at least reserve the communication interfaces for future integration. Otherwise, it could be very difficult and costly to implement intelligent integration in the future.
Moving Towards Smart Manufacturing: Developing Basic Competitive Advantage
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