A New Kind of Connected Factory

As a pandemic forces social distancing, manufacturers are using technology to stay connected, creating a new vision for how data is aggregated, shared, and acted upon to unite factories and people.

An article on Automation World will be of interest to AREA readers about how real world factory and project managers are facing managing operations in a COVID19 world.

The article beings with a true story about Hugh Roddy, VP of global engineering and project management at Chobani. Up until 10 months ago Roddy spent much of his time on the road traveling between the company’s plants in New York and Idaho, as well as periodically heading overseas to check in on the Australian factory. But his road warrior ways have been curbed by COVID-19, and now—like many of his manufacturing peers—he has to manage the projects and operations remotely.

As a result, Roddy has been turning to technology, including HMI (human machine interface) and SCADA (supervisory control and data acquisition) systems, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and augmented reality (AR) to remotely manage assets and troubleshoot machines. But he also needs visibility into how each plant is operating overall. A few years ago, that may have been a problem. But since Chobani’s adoption of Inductive Automation’s Ignition platform, which he describes as a modern day OT (operations technology) operating system, he’s been able to develop many different applications and dashboards, giving him and his team the ability to manage new projects, assist with the operations of current production lines, and gain an eagle’s eye view of individual plants from the enterprise level.

“When I log into our Ignition system I can see New York, Twin Falls (Idaho), and Australia at any given moment in time,” Roddy says. “The plants are more connected to what is happening downstream and upstream…and at the enterprise level it allows plants to be highly integrated from the plant floor to the executive level and back down.”

While Chobani adopted the Ignition platform years ago, other companies are just now starting their digital development journey—a process that has been put on fast-forward due to COVID-19. Now, every business, regardless of the industry segment, is finding new ways to stay connected.

People and processes
“The pandemic is accelerating the movement to digital and smart factories to keep operations running as efficiently as possible and to share [information] across cells in a plant, lines in a plant, or plants in a network,” says Paul Wellener, a vice chairman at Deloitte LLP and the leader of the company’s U.S. Industrial Products and Construction practice.

Deloitte, together with the Manufacturer’s Alliance for Productivity and Innovation (MAPI), recently published a report called “Accelerating Smart Manufacturing: The Value of an Ecosystem Approach,” which indicates that long-term partnerships in the form of an ecosystem can accelerate digital initiatives and drive results. According to the report, while the manufacturing industry was already on a digital transformation journey, it has historically been complicated by the complexity of digitally connecting assets that, in some cases, are more than 50 years old.

The disruption and economic hardship caused by the ongoing pandemic have increased the urgency to accelerate smart manufacturing initiatives for future competitiveness. In a recent MAPI CEO poll, 85% of leaders agreed or strongly agreed that investments in smart factories will rise by June 2021. And, while economists predict that overall business investments could be low for the next three cycles, respondents in the study indicated they are directing a greater share of their factory investments toward smart manufacturing initiatives.


Read the complete article on Automation World.

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