A factory of the future resolves today’s problems

Improve productivity, be more flexible to customer needs, and provide better working conditions, by using technologies from factories of the future, as needed by industry and company type, with faster return on investment (ROI).

By Alex West March 5, 2019

Anyone considering the “Factory of the Future” should start by thinking of challenges manufacturers face today. It’s an interesting time for manufacturing with technologies such as the cloud, artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), additive manufacturing, digital twins, and others promising a revolution in products manufacturing.

Success or failure of these technologies depends on their abilities to address pain points manufacturers face today. Common industry challenges include:

  • Skills and people retention
  • Improving productivity and downtime
  • Worker safety
  • Flexibility and speed to market.

Will companies find use cases for these new technologies, or are we looking at the next technology looking for a problem to solve? In IHS Markit research of 500 industrial companies for its “Industrial IoT Intelligence Service” report, respondent identified Internet of Things applications that would benefit most from their organization’s use of the cloud. Leading responses were predictive maintenance, asset tracking, condition monitoring, plant/factory control, resource planning, and maintenance planning.

Productivity, downtime

While there are many new technologies that could be introduced, cost remains king. A company’s ability to impact its bottom line will be central to any purchasing decision. These decisions are often based on a short payback window of less than a year, rather than total cost of ownership (TCO).

Machine and equipment failures can cost tens of thousands of dollars per minute because of unplanned downtime. There is also the cost of repairing the failed part, the damage caused to associated pieces of equipment, and the cost of getting emergency replacement parts, which all contribute to the final cost. Traditional preventive maintenance planning is limited and resources are inefficient in identifying potential equipment failure. Technologies able to reduce unplanned downtime can show a quick and tangible payback.

Less downtime

How can the factory of the future reduce unplanned downtime? By increasing access to data collected from machines and equipment, companies can monitor the characteristics of a machine’s performance based on the measurement of different parameters including vibration and temperature.

Applying analytics to asset health monitoring applications is one of the low-hanging fruits of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) with the ability to see a quick payback on investment.

IHS Markit research also identified respondents’ primary objectives for using cloud-based analytics as to improve productivity (throughput), reduce downtime/production failure, and efficient maintenance/scheduling.

Faster ROI

Whether improving productivity, being more flexible to customer needs, or providing better working conditions, the technologies found in the factory of the future will succeed on their ability to meet specific challenges that will vary by industry and company type. With questions around how to monetize new solutions such as the IIoT, identifying those that show not just a clear business benefit, but also the ability to provide a quick return on investment (ROI), will be central in driving the move to the factory of the future.

Alex West is an analyst with IHS Markit. Edited by Mark T. Hoske, content manager, Control Engineering, CFE Media, mhoske@cfemedia.com.

KEYWORDS: Advanced technologies, manufacturing productivity

Technology investments are needed for factory of the future capabilities.

Advanced technologies can augment productivity, flexibility, and better working conditions.

Easier customization seems likely.


Are you accelerating toward the factory of tomorrow or stalled in a factory of yesterday?

Author Bio: Alex West is an analyst, IHS Markit.