Europe-wide survey highlights both progress and barriers to smart factory deployment

A Europe-wide survey of over 200 manufacturers with more than 500 employees shows that deployment of Smart Factory initiatives is currently running at around 63 per cent and is set to grow rapidly over the next five years. The remaining 37 per cent identify as being in the “planning stage”.

Commissioned by teknowlogy Group, the leading European industry analyst firm and Stratus Technologies, a global leader in simplified, protected and autonomous Edge Computing solutions, the research builds a strong business case for Smart Factories with nearly one in two respondents reporting a return on their investment in less than one year and almost two thirds ranking Smart Factory as 7 out of 10 or higher on their list of strategic priorities.

Richard Sharod, Vice President EMEA, Stratus Technologies said: “Smart Factory initiatives are driving new levels of efficiency and profitability for industry as the business case for deployment gets stronger and stronger. This research demonstrates a desire among respondents to improve systems, outputs and quality while driving down costs, but also highlights the challenges that are holding back industry-wide deployment”.

As with any new technology, the research also highlights that the biggest challenges with Smart Factory projects start with deployment. Over half (58 per cent) of respondents stated that the cost of investment was a barrier to Smart Factory technology adoption along with just under one in two who were struggling to build a business case, while 47% of responders said a lack of skills was holding back their Smart Factory projects.

Greg Hookings, Head of Business Development – EMEA, for Stratus, said: “All in all, companies cited product quality, supporting digital transformation and enabling more efficient customisation of products as their primary goals when implementing a Smart Factory initiative. We are on the precipice of major change, and industry leaders must engage with specialists to ensure a smooth transition from current siloed operations to a connected factory floor”.

Implementations on the factory floor are one of several areas proving to be complex. Of those that are some way along their journey to achieving Smart Factory solutions, less than one in ten analyse more than 75 per cent of the data they hold, which suggests that the full benefits of Smart Manufacturing are yet to be exploited. This is likely to be in part due to the skills required for data analysis being in short supply, but there is also a question of where in a company the responsibility for analysis falls, according to JC Bodhuin, Senior Vice President at teknowlogy Group.

“In a Smart Factory, one of the key elements is being able to analyse all of the data that comes from connected machinery, people and other assets (such as the building and environmental variables that affect production). Since data storage management and analytics comes under the remit of the IT department, it is with good reason that 32 per cent of respondents said that Smart Factory decision making comes from the IT department.”

Looking to the future, respondents provided key insight to the movement of data and the distribution of computing, a factor which may help identify the right place for data analysis. “While data analytics for Smart Factory today is typically in an on-premises data centre (46 per cent), that is set to change. In only five years’ time, data analysed at the edge of the network will make up 35 per cent of all data analysis, more than doubling what it is currently (14 per cent), and bringing more analytical responsibility to operational engineers,” Added JC from teknowlogy Group.

Greg Hookings, of Stratus, suggests, “This movement of data computing and analytics from the data centre to the edge environment is indicative of a continuing convergence of the roles of IT and OT in the delivery of Smart Factory technologies. Edge Computing platforms are becoming much simpler to deploy, with more autonomous functionality and inbuilt security, allowing OT to play a larger role in delivering Smart Factory improvements. We believe that this will help many industrial enterprises to adopt Smart Factory approaches more quickly and effectively in the months and years ahead.”

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