Smart factory systems boosting product customisation

11th August 2017 By: Schalk Burger - Creamer Media Senior Contributing Editor

Smart factory systems – specifically digital information technology systems that support highly detailed, varied and variable industrial work – are integral to enabling effective customisation of products and their management across disparate supply chains, says enterprise resource planning consulting firm Linx-AS Africa CEO Werner Simpson.

Most products are produced by large, complex and often disparate global supply chains, with design and manufacturing rarely happening in the same country. By way of example, he notes that aerospace engineering company Boeing 777 uses three-million individual parts, with more than 900 suppliers across 17 countries necessary to produce its aeroplanes.

Further, the increasing digitalisation of commercial and industrial processes and the nascent fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, will add complexities, especially as customised and personalised, yet mass-produced, products become commonplace in traditional manufacturing supply chains.

Highly detailed and up-to-date manufacturing information systems will be required to reduce waste and errors.

“There needs to be a single version of the truth (the product information linked to a single product or batch) and it must be able to traverse the entire supply chain and provide the correct detailed information for each stage of manufacturing and distribution,” he says.

The d

igital manufacturing information must be integrated into the workflows and workstations of personnel so that they assemble all parts and systems correctly for a specific product or products. It is only through effective human-machine interfaces that subcomponents and systems for customised products can be produced while waste and errors are minimised.

For example, an industrial workstation should provide access to all information, work flow and detailed step-by-step instructions for assembling customised or specialised product components, such as for industrial equipment, and help to reduce errors by personnel and improve inventory control and management.

Most of these information systems, such as those linked to procurement and warehousing and manufacturing materials management, are already commonplace in industries, but linking them to the rest of the supply chain information systems and managing the information correctly will be necessary to bring traditional manufacturing supply chains in line with the envisaged customisable production, says Simpson.

However, advanced industrial systems and information management will allow for much more responsive manufacturing and production, highlights Simpson.

Supply chains must react to the use of products and change rapidly to address challenges and issues encountered at any stage of products’ life cycles, which will also help to improve the recovery, recycling or disposal of products at their end of life, he explains.

“The effective sharing and management of information related to products and systems will enrich and improve all aspects of their manufacturing, use, maintenance and disposal or recycling. Critically, it will enable industrial processes to become responsive to user demands and help them to transition to Industry 4.0 processes.”

Engineering decisions, business models and product improvement must be deeply integrated into the engineering value chain to enable effective management of product life cycle costs and improvements, concludes Simpson.