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Understanding the Three-Level Concept of Smart Factory Implementation

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While the adoption of automation technologies for factories dates back a long time, recent years have seen the rise of the smart factory concept. Is there any linkage between smart factories and automation? What are the application dimensions of the smart factory concept?

The three levels of smart factory implementation
The smart factory implementation process can be divided into three levels:

Equipment level solutions with a focus on automation and control represent the first level. Adopted applications encompass numerical control equipment (CNC), PLC, I/O, touchpads, and motion control products.

Human-machine interfaces and monitoring systems represent the second level. Adopted applications encompass HMI/SCADA, integrated monitoring and control systems, collection of real-time and historical data, and integrated analysis of efficiency and energy conservation controls.

Production management solutions represent the third level. Adopted applications encompass MES/EMI providing data pertaining to full automation of production orders, and feedstock input and preparation.

Generally speaking, the aforementioned three levels are adopted in sequence. However, certain factories may choose to implement the three levels simultaneously. From the perspective of data structures, the bottom tier is the direct control of production lines with controllers and real-time processing. The next tier is HMI/SCADA, which allows viewing of the status of historical data analysis and the whole factory. This is a key prerequisite for the development of the next level, namely factory performance, quality analysis, production management, and finally the completion of data analysis for the whole factory that enables linkage to the ERP system.

From the angle of software solutions, the top level is the real-time information portal site followed in order by factory performance analysis and manufacturing execution, overall quality management, asset management, factory database, graphic monitoring equipment, and bottom-tier editing and control. Factories may establish these operating platforms according to their individual needs.

The next step is SCADA (Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition). Platforms equipped with systematic monitoring and data retrieval functions must be combined with corresponding hard- and software as a prerequisite for SCADA.

The main purpose of SCADA lies in the overall surveillance, control, automatic record creation, printing, and queries for system equipment as well as provision of real-time operating status of equipment through real-time monitoring computer facilities. This enables factories to create long-term equipment maintenance data, allocate maintenance manpower resources in an effective manner, and enhance maintenance quality and equipment operating efficiency. SCADA can satisfy the needs of a large variety of system equipment including power monitoring systems, AC monitoring systems, fire monitoring systems, access control monitoring systems, and process monitoring systems.

A complete monitoring system is composed of many elements. For instance, process equipment monitoring systems require the installation of sensor and braking devices on relevant equipment and the conversion and transmission of data to control systems which must be equipped with display, recording, regulating, and braking functions. Operators carry out relevant processes based on transmitted front-end data. All data sent to the back-end must be processed in a proper manner. If 70% of all alarms are false, the monitoring system must be capable of identifying such false positives.

In addition, smart factories often require the adoption of MES (Manufacturing Execution Systems). If issues such as downtime, production losses, excessive rework, delivery time errors, failure to comply with industry standards and requirements, material shortage, inability to track raw material use, customer complaints and product recall are too prevalent in production processes, the adoption of MES should be seriously considered.

If administrators face the aforementioned issues, they must adopt corresponding countermeasures and rely on MES to identify causes and potential improvements for various encountered issues. If information can be integrated from top to bottom upon receipt of rush orders, it is possible to determine within a short time whether feedstock preparation is sufficient and whether the order can be accepted.

Finally, the adoption of smart energy conservation systems has become common for smart factories due to the rising demand for energy conservation and carbon reduction. It is imperative to integrate all independent systems such as power and lighting monitoring, AC monitoring, and parking management encompassing various tasks such as collection & measurement, monitoring & analysis, control & management, unloading, and, ultimately, energy conservation to achieve the goal of energy savings, carbon reduction, and cost down.

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