Background image: Factory of the Future 2024

Factory of the Future

A Day in the Life in 2024

Smart factories, enabled by digital technologies and concepts, may not be as futuristic as you think. More and more companies are seeing real business value from initiatives related to augmented and mixed reality, overall equipment effectiveness, product lifecycle intelligence and robotic process automation.

Need inspiration to get started? Here's our vision of the factory of the future, including the people and processes that will be impacted.

Two years ago, we published an article about Factory of the Future: Another Day in the Life in 2022, and two years before that we published The Factory of the Future: A Day in the Life of a Plant Manager in 2020, which introduced our vision for what the factory of the future could look like.

Now that two more years have passed, it’s finally time to complete the trilogy. We’ve revisited Bill and his team at Stuart Sprockets to see how they have continued to make incremental improvements to their operations.

6:25 a.m.

Bill, nearing retirement, steps out of his car (right on time, just as usual) and heads into the plant that he has managed for nearly two decades. Based on the track record of success at Bill’s plant, it has become a model of what is possible within all of Stuart’s operations and Bill enjoyed the recognition it had brought to his entire team. As he walks through the threshold of the door and glances around, Bill reflects on how far they have come and how much they have changed over the past decade.

Preparing the next generation of leadership has become Bill’s primary objective for the past few years, as the plant with its existing systems and people could be relied on to continually produce great results period after period. This has become a key management development stop for high-potential leaders within Stuart Sprockets, and Bill has found this new role very rewarding.

Bill greets Sameer, his new assistant plant manager, for their usual start-of-shift tour through the facility. Sameer has recently rotated in from Stuart’s Asia Pacific region to learn more about smart factories and is being prepared to eventually run Stuart’s entire Asia operation consisting of several similar factories. He had asked for mentorship from Bill directly and was still getting used to Bill’s routine.

They both slip on their smart safety glasses and call up Manager View to see the augmented digital performance data overlaid on the plant. They begin to walk down the main aisle and call up production results from the last night’s shift. Sameer stops short, noticing a tool is missing from the tool storage rack along the aisle. Bill realizes that Sameer learns very quickly. It was only yesterday that Bill showed him how to dig deeper into the data to access the Supplier Portal App on his glasses and dig into why the tool was missing. Sameer said that he was doing just that to understand the situation.

After a moment Sameer says, “It appears that tool 1605 is out being refurbished. The scheduled completion was last Friday. I see it in ToolCo’s active work queue but it doesn’t look like it will be completed for another week. I want to call scheduling to see if they know about it and what the recovery plan is at this point.” Bill smiles. He knows what Sameer will find, but he lets him go through the exercise.

Sameer sends a text message and then begins talking to Roberto in scheduling via his glasses explaining what he sees. “Yes. Ok. I see. Thanks, Roberto.” Sameer turns to Bill, “Yes, Roberto was quite familiar with the situation with 1605. He has already adjusted the weekly production schedule to accommodate the delay. There will be no impact on total production if ToolCo comes through as now planned. Tooling and engineering are both supporting Roberto, and everyone understands the plan. I can also see ToolCo’s daily updates in our Supplier Portal, and this appears to be under control. I see what you mean about aspects of the plant running itself!”

“It was not always this way,” Bill replies, chuckling as his mind flashes back 10 years to a late night he had spent at the plant managing a serious line down situation caused by losing track of a key piece of tooling.

9:00 a.m.

During the daily production meeting, Sameer and Bill listen to the department updates and activities. Nothing is out of the ordinary until Phyllis, the quality manager, starts talking about an intermittent problem on Packaging Line 2. The labeler was having trouble with the new label format driven by regulatory changes in Argentina. After some conversation, it was decided that over lunch today, the controls team would work on the cell and adjust the algorithm controlling the labeler. At the same time, they would also create a report with a data view of the new label performance.

Bill thought back to how in the past such a change would have taken weeks to fully complete because they’d need to involve plant controls engineers to get the change laid out on paper, formally get the changes approved and have IT configure the necessary changes. This idea of democratizing the data work on a flexible Internet of Things (IoT) platform was enabling for the entire organization. Within several hours his team is able to complete this change, including the new data views, which gives him confidence that there would be no more quality issues from packaging line 2.

11:00 a.m.

As usual, lunch was an opportunity to interact with another team within the plant. Today, Bill and Sameer sat down with two members of the Manufacturing Engineering (ME) team, who had recently been working on commissioning a new gear cutting line. This new technology is not only a breakthrough from a capability standpoint, but it is also another demonstration of how to use virtual commissioning with new equipment at the plant.

Being able to take model data of the new production equipment and couple it with physics modeling tools allows Stuart’s manufacturing engineering team to virtually evaluate both the hardware and software for the new equipment prior to its arrival on-site at Stuart. This digital twin’ of the new line has been a game changer for the ME team, who used to spend long days and nights with new equipment getting it to run properly and dealing with inevitable surprises. Now, the difficult exercise of commissioning takes place on a screen well before the equipment is even fabricated. Software and tool designs are tested through automated testing methods to ensure safety, and completeness of the design to fulfill the intended scope. Virtual commissioning has allowed Stuart to turn over shop floor space and bring new equipment online in a rapid, efficient and predictable way.

After hearing that virtual commissioning was completed at the end of last week, their attention is already focused on preparing the floor space for the new equipment—quite straightforward work when compared to commissioning in the past. The topic quickly shifts to the local professional hockey team and their exceptional recent hot streak. But would it last?

2:45 p.m.

Sameer wants to learn more about the asset root cause analysis team at Stuart, so a meeting is called for the team to talk about their approach to asset management. The team of three analysts enters the conference room and set up their screen to present.

They explain the vast array of processing assets in the facility—more than 4000 unique production assets, across 22 different asset classes. Since all maintenance and engineering activities on the equipment have been captured in work orders by asset over the past 5 years, the Maintenance Management System (MMS) has a wealth of data available by asset and asset class. This enables the analysts to search for patterns and anomalies that are actionable.

Each asset class has an established asset maintenance strategy that identifies what planned work needs to be completed to keep the equipment available for usage. As planned maintenance activities are executed, more data is generated, and the analysts are able to attempt to align planned maintenance procedures with subsequent failures. Over time, planned maintenance has the effect of settling the performance of the assets in each class. At that point, the analysts can look to see what actions can have their frequency reduced without impacting machine availability. This is a complex system of asset management strategies that is under constant refinement through a feedback process or closed loop control.

When they pull up the multi-year trends of equipment availability on screen, Sameer is really impressed. He can not believe the degree of improvement possible through these methods. He asks about what the next focus was, and learns that the maintenance leadership team is closely tracking the productivity of the maintenance team in order to reduce their headcount through redeploying personnel to line installation or quality improvement projects.

5:25 p.m.

Bill heads back through the turnstiles and to the car after another full day. Sameer has offered to take Bill out this evening to eat authentic Indian food at a restaurant he just discovered in town, that passed his acceptance test, and Bill is looking forward to a good meal. Sameer is the fourth leader that Bill has coached in this manner. He stays in touch with each of the previous three, who are each advancing nicely through their careers at Stuart, leveraging lessons learned and building upon the techniques and methods enabled by the digital tools applied.

Bill is excited to see the next generation of Stuart leaders pulling the company into the future, and he feels comfortable that Stuart Sprockets is in able hands for years to come. But retirement would have to wait a while longer—Bill still has much to teach… and much to learn.

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