3 Ways Real-Time Tracking Powers Digital Factories

Projecting and planning are two main components in today’s product and facility lifecycle. To ease the process, three technological breakthroughs are incorporated; embedded sensors that pass information in real-time, wireless communication and Cloud computing.

3 WAYS REAL-TIME TRACKING POWERS DIGITAL FACTORIES Information surpassed materials as the catalyst for activity in manufacturing plants more than two decades ago, but the digital factory—where organizations digitally plan and project the entire lifecycle of products and facilities—has only recently become a reality. The breakthroughs that make the digital factory possible are: • mass adoption of embedded sensors, which can pass information among machines, devices, products and software in real time; • advances in wireless communication that move more data faster; and • cloud computing, which removes the need to be on-site to access process data. The convergence of these breakthroughs birthed the Internet of Things (IoT), which is the backbone of a digital factory. “The IoT basically gives a digital voice or a virtual voice to assets, physical things,” explained Zebra Technologies CEO Anders Gustafsson in an IndustryWeek article. “The digital voice enables them to communicate something about themselves. It can be what they are, where they are, their condition, their temperature, and so forth.” Digital voices are everywhere in a digital factory. In this brief, we’ll elaborate on the technology tools digital factories use for three common functions: asset management, production planning and materials replenishment. A Zebra Technologies Executive Brief Equipment and tools are in high demand in modern factories because production is planned in shorter intervals than in the past. Their maintenance, status and location can’t be left to chance—if they can’t be located when needed, activity stops. Downtime is costly, and the larger the factory, the bigger this problem potentially can be. Digital factories use real-time location systems (RTLS) to track assets. Such a system could consist of unique identification “tags” affixed to assets that send out pulses, which can be picked up by sensors. The sensors can pass on the location information via a local network or the Internet. Ideally, a RTLS will integrate seamlessly into existing asset-management software solutions. ASSET LOCATION/STATUS 2 In today’s just-in-time plants, even a slight deviation from the hourly/shift/daily production plan must be identified and addressed immediately to avoid bottlenecks that stop workflow. One way that digital factories maintain flow is to track work-in- process cycle times, which can identify and address constraint points. To accomplish this, they use a variety of solutions, including barcoding, radio frequency identification (RFID) labels and readers, and RTLS; the output of these solutions is detailed analytics. Production planners can analyze this data to plan responses to demand shifts or to identify opportunities for increased profitability via higher throughput with the same assets. WORK-IN-PROCESS A Zebra Technologies Executive Brief INVENTORY PLANNING/MATERIALS REPLENISHMENT CONCLUSION 3 Manufacturers are managing inventory levels more precisely than ever before—not only to avoid the carrying costs of idle raw materials and finished goods, but also because global sourcing requires ongoing supplier engagement and management. In a digital factory, lean “signal” systems have evolved into multi-facility digital links by which suppliers can see directly into a customer’s raw materials inventory, and automatically respond with appropriately sized shipments for replenishment. Software and real-time tracking solutions combine to create these links and, in turn, increase a manufacturer’s flexibility and responsiveness. Keeping inventories low improves cash flow and reduces inventory-carrying costs for both the producer and the supplier. Digital factories use the IoT to manage multiple functions, including product development and lifecycle, operations, asset management and inventory. But fast-moving information is just one ingredient in the fuel that powers a digital factory. Software, sensors, ID tags, RFID readers and labels, barcoding and real-time location systems turn fast-moving information into actionable cues for automated or manual responses. Manufacturing companies are stronger and have brighter long-term outlooks because of these technologies, so it’s imperative that plants invest in solutions that bring them closer to being digital factories. ©2013 ZIH Corp. 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