Building The ‘Factory Of The Future'

Tuesday, March 6th, 2018

Guido Ceresole, Zone VP SEAP, Gebo Cermex, discusses how ‘The Factory of the Future’ can help enhance efficiency, while bringing unprecedented agility and greater business opportunities.

Around the world, shifting patterns in consumer habits are continually creating production challenges for manufacturers of beverage, food, home and personal care (FHPC) products. Demands of greater product diversity and personalisation along with the growth of e-commerce are calling for increased responsiveness, flexibility and scalability.

Answering these changing trends requires the ability to process high variability and low volumes—and emerging technologies are already accessible to enable the necessary transition from mass production to mass customisation.

Against this highly unpredictable background, however, the ultimate goals have to be: greater productivity, increased flexibility, easy operation and maintenance, consistent quality, optimised asset utilisation, together with minimised TCO (total cost of ownership). To this end, many beverage and FHPC producers are already looking to the growing movement towards ‘The Factory of the Future’.

The Next Era In Manufacturing Revolution


Originally promoting the computerisation of manufacturing, the basic principle of Industry 4.0 was based on the concept of connecting machines, work pieces, systems and businesses to create intelligent networks along the entire value chain that would be able to control each other autonomously. It is now used as the name for the current trend towards digitalisation, data exchange and smart management in existing and future manufacturing technologies.

Today’s Industry 4.0 is the next in the line of 'revolutionary' changes in industrial production in which cyber-physical systems monitor the physical processes of the factory, enabling fastest decisions for continued optimisation. Those who are already implementing ‘smart’ manufacturing initiatives are enjoying a 45-55 percent increase in productivity, according to McKinsey&Company.

In fact, this allows flexible, faster changeovers and reductions of: 10-40 percent in maintenance time and costs; 30-50 percent in total machine downtime; 20-50 percent in holding costs; 10-20 percent in quality costs; 10-20 percent reduction in waste and 20-50 percent in time-to-market.

Scientific breakthrough gives rise to new markets and thereby underlines the role of technology as a solution-provider for tackling the challenge of increasing economic growth and job creation. The application of innovative technologies in high-value products with advanced features through manufacturing creates competitively marketable products.

To meet increasing worldwide consumer demand for personalised, high quality, greener products, manufacturers need to make the transition to a production framework that makes better use of resources and creates less waste, so that costs are always minimised.

To strengthen industrial competitiveness and sustainability, they need to concentrate on increasing the technological basis of manufacturing through the development and integration of key enabling technologies (KET), which are vital for the development of new goods and services as well as for the modernising of industrial processes.

Meeting Changing Needs Of Consumers And Society


The concept of the Factory of the Future is able to address the changing purchasing habits of the consumer along with the evolving needs of society by combining improved industrial performance and quality with cost-effective productivity.

With the potential to open new markets, these new production sites would be capable of adapting with demand to undertake smaller-scale, customised production in an economically viable way. In doing so, these evolving factories would better integrate human skills and capabilities while reducing the use of resources such as raw materials and energy and minimising the generation of waste.

Such customer-focused, human-centred, manufacturing will be achieved by collaborative and mobile enterprises in digital, virtual and resource-efficient factories utilising the latest information and communication technologies along with innovative modelling, simulation and forecasting systems.

When Volume Is Low And Variability Requirements High


Over recent years, the objective of most manufacturers could generally be summed up by the simple term ‘mass production’, in which the overriding aim was to produce high volumes at high speed and high efficiency to a relatively high standard.

Today, however, changing consumption patterns of the end-user are creating fresh challenges particularly for the manufacturers of beverage, and FHPC products around the world. Driven by e-commerce and marketing campaigns, consumers’ purchasing habits are causing a rise in demand for personalisation of goods and the need for manufacturers to produce a greater number of stock keeping units (SKUs).

It has also given rise to the growth of smaller cases, short-term promotional packaging and an increasing number of ‘rainbow’ packs that contain combinations of various flavours of goods rather than a single type. This, in turn, demands greater flexibility from the manufacturer. Today, the only way for many manufacturers to answer these demands quickly and at the right price is often by a process of repacking.

Finished products are unpacked and then repacked at a later date in another configuration, often in a process that is out-sourced away from the original site of production and carried out by contract packaging companies or end retailers.

This typically leaves manufacturers with little or no control over the costs involved and can sometimes account for 30-50 percent of total production volume, according to industry experts. More significantly, it is completely contrary to the growing wish of consumers around the world for leaner manufacturing processes and a reduction in carbon footprints.

Another approach that is also growing is the use of more flexible solutions that combine the original production lines dedicated to constant output of the standard products with a second line for mixed flavours, rainbow pallets and mixed packing. However, this introduction of secondary, smaller pieces of equipment, while providing some flexibility, also increases the complexities of everyday production.

Both practices clearly demonstrate that for many manufacturers, the limits of flexibility have already been reached and that greater agility is required for the beverage and FHPC markets where unpredictability is an increasing characteristic of consumer demand, and where the challenge to produce a wide variety of different product types—often in limited numbers—is constantly growing.

Future-Proof Solutions


For liquid packaging manufacturers looking to improve performance and longevity, the key is to take a more holistic approach to production. By partnering with a full solution partner, producers get an insight into the entire supply chain—from current market trends to distribution challenges and local regulations. They receive help in choosing the most appropriate equipment at each stage of the production line, thus ensuring it can be adapted to realise the optimum return from their investment.

Feasibility studies, simulation modelling and 3D animations ensure that plans are carefully constructed and expertly controlled—and when the line is up and running real-time data solutions can keep productivity at its maximum.

In the Factory of the Future, ‘virtual’ technologies such as high-precision simulation and modelling are already key in forecasting equipment and factory behaviour, before the need for any actual investment. Together with 3D scanning and the generation of ‘digital twins’, they enable producers to determine the right decisions and minimise expenditure.

‘Smart’ technologies enable producers to address future challenges and include equipment that is self-adjusting and adapting to changing conditions and external factors.

There are machines already capable of maintaining performance and even improving it. Having fact and data-based solving capabilities, equipment is controlled via intuitive and augmented reality interfaces and operators and robots can work closely together, via cobotic solutions.

With today’s digital connectivity, being able to access information is a basic requisite—and everyone from operators to the CEOs can have easy access to tailored production data in real time via multiple devices, for maximum transparency and efficiency.

‘Connected’ solutions—designed to ensure total cyber security—are now paving the way for machine learning, comparison and benchmarking. They include intelligent, real-time monitoring of equipment everywhere and cloud-based solutions include data ubiquity and advanced analytics for improved prediction and root cause analysis (RCA), remote assistance and online services.

‘Sustainable’ solutions also deliver significant benefits. By improving the use of recyclable materials, such as lightweight PET bottles, new 3D-printed lightweight parts with new material alloys, and by limiting the consumption of utilities and the monitoring and modelling of energy consumption figures, greatly reduced OPEX is being achieved for manufacturers.

Mass customisation, flexibility and the ability to introduce new products quickly can be provided by ‘extended factory’ solutions, able to revolutionise the traditional concepts of packaging lines and factory.

According to this approach, where intra-logistics plays an important part in the architecture of the lines, semi-finished products are routed, stored and made available upon demand, meaning the end of the need for any repacking. In this way producers are able to increase the number of types of SKUs they are capable of handling, to reduce waste and the need for storage—while still achieving faster times to market.

Industry 4.0 Is Happening Now


Industry 4.0 solutions are already making it possible to digitise the entire value chain and take advantage of connectivity to undertake production in response to immediate demand.

For instance, enhanced connectivity on equipment and plant level and exchange of data indicate when raw materials or ingredients are running low, how and where energy is being consumed or when parts are wearing out.

Similarly, the logistics at the end of the production line, such as the distribution process, can also be managed in real-time and the data generated by the entire line can be used to improve product serialisation and traceability to protect against counterfeit products and ensure food safety.

By accessing, monitoring and using the data generated by a production line, manufacturers can already improve sustainability as well as equipment performance. As costs of energy, raw materials and natural resources all continue to increase—and consumers around the globe look for more sustainable methods of production—data supplied by lines can be instrumental in minimising costs and optimising both sustainability and competitiveness.

Factory Of The Future—Automated, Connected, Agile


In short, the Factory of the Future will comprise digital processes that are fully automated, flexible and better connected—in terms of information availability and inter-communication—in order to improve performance, efficiency and productivity, while eliminating waste in terms of raw materials and natural resources, energy consumption, effort and time and decreasing unplanned downtime and maintenance.

It will be an agile and highly efficient environment, making the most of new technologies such as artificial intelligence, 3D printing, advanced and collaborative robotics. Besides that, simulation software, interactive media, virtual and augmented reality, are bringing significant benefits especially within training and maintenance programmes, changing the ‘face’ of aftersales at a fast pace.

The need to embrace the opportunities offered by this latest radical shift in manufacturing approach necessitates a faster uptake by manufacturers if they are to keep pace with their local and global competitors. Change is bound to come but will happen at a different pace in different geographical locations, and within different industries as manufacturers around the world reconsider their capital investment strategies and policies in light of new attitudes and growing technological capabilities.

The best solution for any production line will always involve much more expertise than simply knowing which equipment to choose. When designing a line from the very outset, experienced solution providers are able to evaluate and take into consideration such variables as floor space, layout, building features, utilities and production cycles for the optimum project plan.

A full solution partner will be fully aware of the most advanced technologies available, as well as those that are being developed and thus yet to emerge. Most importantly, they are best placed to put these ‘Factory of the Future’ technologies to work in the most effective way for producers to embrace the possibilities they offer.

By wholeheartedly doing so, they will undoubtedly maximise production performance, efficiency and profitability while minimising their TCO—now and long into the future.