How to Prepare Today for the Plant of Tomorrow

Digital manufacturing plantThanks to the rapid development of new technologies, especially digital ones, manufacturing and industrial processing are changing at a breakneck pace. Are you ready for the transformation? When the dust settles, will you be at the forefront of your industry or will your plant look like something that belongs in a museum?

Here, we’ll explore what the plant of the tomorrow will look like and how you can prepare for the future today.

What the plant of tomorrow will look like

Plants and factories of the future will look much different from what they do today. Tomorrow’s plants will be digital, everything will be networked, and people will play a much different role.

Smart and connected, powered by the Industrial Internet of Things

In the future, data will run through factories like electricity does today. Every piece of equipment will be connected to the other machines in its line and also to a centralized database (likely in the cloud) that collects millions of datapoints about processes daily, while an algorithm crunches the numbers looking for any abnormal activity or changes in performance. When something is found, the program automatically adjusts a setting on the machine remotely or sends an alert to an operator on the ground.

Automated and robotic

The plant of the future will have fewer people on the floor. Every process that’s possible to automate will be automated, and robots will take over all repetitive and difficult jobs, like heavy lifting. Soft robotics will also become widely used for jobs that require a lighter touch, such as picking up an egg.

This doesn’t mean that jobs for humans will disappear. Instead, they will transform from unskilled into highly skilled positions.

Flexible and able to quickly fill custom orders

Products are becoming more customized, a trend being advanced by flexible processes and new technologies such as 3D printing, or additive manufacturing. In the future, rather than having a set production schedule, manufacturing processes will quickly adjust to fulfill customized orders received online.

Energy efficient

Energy prices will continue to rise, as will the cost of other utilities like water and compressed air. To stay competitive, companies will work to be as energy efficient as possible through initiatives like buying energy efficient equipment, reducing waste, and moving from an always-on to an on-demand model for energy-consuming processes.

How you can prepare today

If you’re thinking that the scenarios presented above sound less like the future and more like now, you’re right. Many companies are already moving forward in all of these directions. The Internet of Things is already being leveraged across industries, several high-profile companies have adopted additive manufacturing, and plants are becoming smarter by the minute.

Here are some ways you can start your journey to the plant of tomorrow.

Start thinking differently

The opportunities provided by the digital transformation and the Internet of Things require more than just a new process or new piece of equipment. In many cases, they require a complete paradigm shift, a different way of thinking.

For many companies, this can be scary. It’s easy to get trapped into a way of doing things simply because that’s the way you’ve always done them. But in the future, the old way of doing things won’t cut it. The sooner you start thinking differently, the better you’ll be able to adapt to the new normal.

Educate yourself

One way you can start thinking differently is by educating yourself about the Internet of Things and other new technologies that are disrupting the status quo. When you don’t understand something, it’s easy to misjudge it. With digital technologies in particular, a lack of understanding often leads to overestimating the risks.

For example, many companies are wary of big data because they’re concerned their competitors might steal their trade secrets. In reality, the risk of a competitor being able to get ahold of your data and use it for any nefarious purpose isn’t much greater than the risk of that same competitor walking through your front door and stealing your secrets the good old fashioned way. Both situations are possible, but with the right security and protections, they’re also highly unlikely.

Prepare your people

A major driver of many of these changes is a lack of talent. Manufacturing companies have been suffering under a skills shortage that has hastened the adoption of robotics and other automation technologies.

However, as we mentioned above, it isn’t the case that jobs will be disappearing. Instead, they’ll be changing. Rather than manual laborers, you’ll need employees capable of interacting with complex computer systems, people skilled in the art of turning data into actionable insights, and maintenance technicians who can diagnose and repair a PLC as easily as they can a conveyor belt. Every industry will be competing for workers with these same skills. Give yourself the best chance by starting your talent search now or implementing new training programs to reskill your current workforce.

Find good partners

Finally, gain comfort from the idea that you don’t have to do this alone. Many vendors (probably including some of your current partners) have considerable knowledge and experience in these areas. They can provide guidance for the best way to start implementing new technologies in your facility. On the engineering side, we have extensive expertise and a future-oriented software platform that provides a centralized database for applications like predictive maintenance and plant lifecycle management.

Overall, the best way to prepare today for the plant of tomorrow is just to get started. Unlike ketchup, when it comes to readying your business for the future, good things don’t come to those who wait. Contact us to learn more about how we can help.

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