August 3, 2018updated 18 Jul 2019 11:00am

Step inside the factory of the future

By Terri Hiskey

Step inside the factory of the future and what do you expect to see? You might have visions of robots, drones, and voice-enabled technology, machines that can communicate with other machines, and biometric security systems.

Well, the reality is that we’re much closer to this vision than you might realise. For example, a recent study from Epicor has found that 41% of businesses are already implementing some form of robot technology.

This is a trend that we’re also seeing among our customers. For example, in the Netherlands, Boers & Co Fine Metalworking Group is in the process of trialling Industry 4.0 initiatives in their manufacturing facilities, while British producer of engineered access hardware solutions, Southco, has embraced the smart factory.

Advantages of embracing factory of the future concepts

Our experiences of working with these businesses as they embrace factory of the future concepts, coupled with our own research, have taught us that there are many advantages to working with the latest innovations.

Firstly, businesses know they need to develop their use of technology in order to remain competitive and grow. They know that robots can work autonomously (54%), can free up employees to work on more creative tasks (40%) and can optimize processes faster than humans (34%).

Secondly, these latest technologies also offer a comprehensive solution to the emerging industry-wide knowledge gap. With only a quarter (23%) of businesses agreeing they find it easy to attract the right talent, with the right industry knowledge, businesses are facing a skills gap on their factory floors, if they fail to recruit new talent before too long. Robots can plug that gap by working efficiently, while also processing and storing company data (or knowledge). In addition, an innovative, automated factory is a much more attractive work option for newer workers than the older factories of the past.

Robotics and AI technologies can be effectively implemented by businesses that have an intelligent enterprise resource planning (ERP) solution at the heart of their operations. An ERP system can orchestrate processes, making analytics, data sharing, and thus intelligent decision-making, all possible. For example, by combining smart factory innovations with Epicor ERP, Boers is maximising its productivity and has already cut labour costs by 15%, while Southco has used Epicor Mattec manufacturing execution software (MES) to improve its assembly bench utilisation by 40%.

AI, robots and highly automated machinery are fast becoming a common feature among businesses that are experiencing high growth, not just because they make operations quicker, but because they offer one answer to the burgeoning knowledge gap. It’s time to make sure your factory is future-ready, by enabling these technologies, now.