Industry 4.0 What is Smart Factory? Definition, examples & industry 4.0 technologies

What does Smart Factory mean? Smart Factory is the vision of a production environment in which production facilities and logistics systems are organised without human intervention. Read on now and find out more about the structure of the intelligent factory through application examples from the automotive industry!

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Driverless transport vehicles (FTF) make it possible to transport materials and tools flexibly through the Smart Factory.
Driverless transport vehicles (FTF) make it possible to transport materials and tools flexibly through the Smart Factory.
(Source: Fraunhofer-IPA)

The Smart Factory is no longer a vision. While different model factories represent the feasible, many enterprises already clarify with examples practically, how the Smart Factory functions.

The technical foundations on which the Smart Factory - the intelligent factory - is based are cyber-physical systems that communicate with each other using the Internet of Things and Services. An important part of this process is the exchange of data between the product and the production line. This enables a much more efficient connection of the Supply Chain and better organisation within any production environement.
The manufacturing information provided by the product on an RFID chip in machine-readable form, for example, can be used to control the product's path through the individual manufacturing steps. Other transmission technologies, such as WLAN or QR codes, are also possible. That's the theory.


Smart Factory - Optimised part transport in servo press lines thanks to networking

The Smart Factory is the core element of Industry 4.0. The decisive factor in designing a Smart Factory in practice is that all elements of the factory - tools, products and plant technology - are equipped with integrated computing power. In this way, the data can be captured, processed and forwarded. The data acquisition and control of the production takes place in real time. Accordingly, a sheet metal part of the press line, for example, can indicate which production step must be carried out.

Around 30 industrial PCs are networked in servo press lines from Schuler, the Göppingen-based press manufacturer. These realise automatic and reliable part transport from one press stage to the next. However, individual presses, blank cutting systems with lasers and various automation components already have the necessary interfaces for comprehensive networking.

But before the parts are transported, it must be clear at what maximum speed the sheet can be formed. Here, the forming simulation provides corresponding data for the virtual optimisation of the entire line. Long before the die sets are clamped, a virtual image of the press produces one part after the other. Thanks to the simulation of the entire system, including all press stages and automation components, the time required for part transport can be minimised.

Driverless transport systems for individual production

Another prime example of Smart Factory within logistics technology are driverless transport vehicles (DTV) . A technology that is becoming increasingly important: Unlike assembly lines, they can transport components flexibly from station to station without having to follow a specific sequence. "In order for the DTV to know where to go, sensor-based environment detections and maps, as well as the connection to a cloud, are required," says the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Engineering and Automation (IPA). Here, scientists have been developing DTVs for various applications for several years. Transferring the idea of a Smart Factory to logistics creates new logistics systems that are networked. Accordingly, the interaction between industry 4.0 and transport logistics must be ensured for these scenarios.

Smart Factory creates new ideas for part transport in the automotive industry

In September 2016, the automobile manufacturer Audi opened a new production facility for Q5 production in San José Chiapa, northeast of Puebla, Mexico. A total of 105 employees from various departments work in the central production control station and monitor the development of the new Audi Q5 from a bird's eye view. "The central P control station is the most modern in the Audi production network and symbolises the Audi Smart Factory," says Prof. Dr. Hubert Waltl, member of the Board of Management for Production and Logistics at Audi AG.

Ever shorter production cycles, an increasing individualisation of products and a required increase in throughput are the dominant topics of production. This also has an impact on production processes and associated logistics systems in the automotive industry.

One thing is certain: The materials required for production must always be provided on time, in the required quality and flexible. Audi, for example, is working on Smart Factory technologies, specifically on the use of new automated transport systems , that can orient themselves independently thanks to laser scanners. At the Goods Transport Centre, which is directly adjacent to Audi's main plant in Ingolstadt, trials are being conducted with transport systems such as autonomous forklifts and driverless industrial trucks. From Audi's point of view, these new transport systems could also be supplemented by transport drones that are able to bring urgently needed parts to the production line by air in the shortest possible time. Audi recently completed successful test flights at the Ingolstadt plant on a day off.


Creating standardised interfaces for data exchange

Industry 4.0 makes it necessary for companies to increasingly network their operating resources, machines and logistics systems in cyber-physical systems. For the resulting Smart Factory, this means that intelligent products are identifiable, can be localised at any time and know their history, their current status and the possible options on the way to product finishing. In addition, the smart production systems are networked with business processes within the company and with external value creation networks.

Against this background, the creation of standards for communication between the control logic, the machines and the operators of the production facilities and logistics systems is one of the central challenges.

Focus on logistics, production, and handling

In the research project SmARPro (Smart Assistance for Humans in Production Systems), which is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research within the framework of the call for proposals "Virtual technologies for the factory of the future - a contribution to the future project Industry 4.0" , solutions are to be developed for this. In concrete terms, the aim is to develop virtual technologies that make it possible to record and process operating data in factories in a standardised way and to make the data available to people in a targeted manner. Based on a stronger coupling of production technology and IT, the focus will be on logistics, production, and handling.

Whether in industry or science - there are already ideas, solutions and implementations for the Smart Factory, including the "E³ Research Factory Resource-Efficient Production" at the Fraunhofer Institute for Machine Tools and Forming Technology in Chemnitz. With a view to the holistic approach of the topic, Prof. Matthias Putz, head of the scientific department Machine Tools, Production Systems and Machining Technology at IWU, emphasises: "It is important that production technology is more closely networked with logistics than before.

* Annedore Bose-Munde is a specialist editor for economics and technology


About the author

Dipl.-Ing. Annedore Bose-Munde

Dipl.-Ing. Annedore Bose-Munde

Fachredakteurin für Wirtschaft und Technik