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Smart Factory: User-friendly and flexible

Dominik Doubek

10/22/2021 11:39 AM


Typical examples of how manufacturing companies fail when it comes to digitization: complex and user-unfriendly software, lacking flexibility, inconsistent data and rarely any updates. However, a smart factory is only effective if the digitized processes are easy to use for all operators. Intuitive smartphone apps show us impressively how this can be done in our private lives. The smart factory must be guided by this. We provide some tips on what to look out for in the technical implementation.

Usability and User-friendliness

Modern software solutions must be easy to use, appealing in design and usable on various end devices. These three elements are highly interdependent and are compiled in software development through good user experience design (UED). The groundwork for UED in production are processes and value streams designed according to lean management criteria. Based on this, simple visualizations and clear input masks can be mapped in a corresponding software. Clear masks also offer the advantage that, thanks to modern web design, they can be called up from the smartphone or Smart TV in the factory. The best evaluation measure of a software's usability is the duration of time it takes a new user to become familiar with the system.

Flexibility

With regard to the appropriate scope of functions, a modular structure of the Smart Factory application is recommended. This means that data acquisition and interaction in daily manufacturing operations management can be started with and the range of functionalities can then be successively expanded. These additional features range from worker assistance to maintenance, quality, logistics, and planning functions. An important basic requirement is that all work systems of a factory can be adequately represented. For this purpose, it is essential to use different methods of data generation depending on the work system characteristics. In practice, it has proven useful to determine the correct method on the basis of three dimensions: output, cycle time variation and personnel intensity. In addition to flexible work systems, simple and fast support from the local administrator is crucial. This requires functions with which many basic settings can be made directly by users in their day-to-day business. This increases the connection and identification with the generated data.

Connectivity and Interfaces

The superordinate customer requirements are the basis for an order analysis or a worker assistance system. For this purpose, it is necessary to synchronize the individual order data as well as important master data with the higher-level systems. (e.g. ERP system) Basically, a distinction between read and bi-directional (read & write) systems can be made. The latter are particularly necessary if data is also to be reported back from the Smart Factory application. In addition to order data, many companies also have valid data from machines or processes. A smart factory can process this valid machine data directly or via middleware (e.g. with an IIoT-Box). In this way, for example, unit number pulses or the states can be combined with the order data.

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