20th August 2021

How smart is your factory?

Graham Bull, Chief Executive Officer, IndustrialComms discusses the evolution of industrial communications within the factory automation sector and what it means for the future of fast- moving goods (FMCGs).

Originally control systems were hard wired, then we saw the advent of what we call fieldbus, followed by a transition to Ethernet, which today is standard.

The trend now, is to converge the factory network with the enterprise network. What this means in practice, is that all departments, from the back office to the factory floor, can communicate in real time.

In the past, the factory network wasn't fully connected to the enterprise network, so when a company was making whiskey for example, they would probably go downstairs to the factory floor and give Production instructions saying, “we want to make 10,000 bottles of whiskey this week.”

So, there was sort of a finite break between the enterprise and the factory. The trend now is to join those up, creating a seamless connection between the factory and the enterprise parts of the network. This is important in terms of efficiency, in that it allows factories making food for example to change the ingredients of a product, or what they are making altogether, very quickly. It also meets the increasing demand for customisation in FMCG’s.

The automotive industry is at the leading edge of this. They have a very flexible manufacturing process, producing infinite varieties of cars with all the all the extras to offer the customer exactly the product they want. Theirs is a very joined up, seamless approach. You can now customise a car extensively so virtually every car is different. This represents a key part of the marketing for many of the top brands.

Industry 4.0 is one of the many things that is helping us to do this do this. One of the other drivers is that companies know they can no longer do everything themselves - they need to allow the suppliers of their equipment or machinery to have access to the manufacturing process. So, we now have a situation where we have a lot more access from suppliers or third parties, requiring even more robust cyber security measures throughout the supply chain.

We are, therefore, moving increasingly toward the “smart factory” model, which basically means that you have maximum flexibility to produce small batches of customised products, with very quick turnaround times. To achieve this, the control system must be able to adapt, and the network needs to be longer; faster and better at delivering information. That information also needs to be secure. As an industrial communications specialist, we can help manufacturers to get all aspects of this right.

I think we are going to see an even bigger drive towards wireless communication and cyber security within manufacturing over the next few years. 5G allows you to have private network in your factory, it’s not run by any of the mobile phone companies, it’s yours - you have the licence to run it. While that’s not much use to smaller manufacturers, for the larger ones it represents an important investment in terms of making their factories smarter and more secure.

IndustrialComms has a great deal of experience in the factory automation sector working with many leading UK SIs and end users. We offer a wide range of communication and computing products from leading brands in this sector, including Hirschmann and Siemens Scalance which are compatible with all leading automation protocols such as Profibus, CANbus, Profinet, EtherCAT and Ethernet/IP.

In addition, we have supplied equipment for several CCTV projects for large Industrial premises and manufacturing facilities. We have a strong expertise in PoE based products and technology. 

For more information visit www.industrialcomms.com

automotive assembly line