What is a Smart Factory?

Industry 4.0 has been driving factories forward as the next industrial revolution promises to deliver a more responsive, adaptive and connected manufacturing line. From the Internet of Things to Artificial Intelligence, there are plenty of innovative aspects to be considered when upgrading to a smart factory. 

The factory of the future operates autonomously and can run diagnostics required to identify and repair any malfunctions, without having to halt the entire production line. While upgrading to an Industry 4.0 led factory is a goal that many businesses are looking to attain, knowing what makes a smart factory and how to begin this transition isn’t always clear.

The introduction of Internet of Things devices to the factory is one of the most effective ways to begin the transformation into a smart factory. However, businesses need to be careful that they don’t rush into things head first. 

Matthew Potts, Project Sales Engineer at HMK described the foundations of a smart factory:

“It’s a harmonious communication between all the devices on the factory floor and the larger plant management to ensure that all the equipment is functioning as productively as possible”

While it may be tempting to replace every machine in the entire manufacturing chain with IoT technology, the most proactive process is to systematically assess and identify the key areas that need an upgrade.

Focusing on the improving the key parts of the plant to their newer, smart equivalents will help provide more in-depth layers of data. This can then be analysed to further identify which other parts of the manufacturing line should be upgraded next, as the factory continues to develop an automation infrastructure.

Upgrading to a digital factory isn’t just the responsibility of the engineers on the factory floor, it needs the support of every part of a company, from the board members to the IT departments. Industry 4.0 is going to combine computers and industrialisation to create a smoother, more efficient production line and its benefits are going to be felt throughout the entire business.

This shift to a new industrial revolution also presents the opportunity to upskill everyone in the business. Those who are sceptical of adopting Industry 4.0 believe that the combination of Artificial Intelligence and automation will make the human aspect obsolete. However, it just means that those working in factories will have a different role to play. New technology still needs to be monitored and controlled and those who already have an expertise in helping complex tasks interface between hardware and software can turn their talents to new, exciting technologies.

There may be companies trying to figure out whether smart factories are truly a necessity. Many are already extremely productive and may have recently invested heavily into developing sitewide diagnostics. Therefore, for some it may seem like an unnecessary investment.

Yet as we are now on the cusp of the fourth industrial revolution, the innovative technology available can help future proof factories and keep companies competitive as manufacturers around the world continue to embrace Industry 4.0.

At HMK we’ve been helping our clients prepare for Industry 4.0 with the new S7-1500 T-CPU from Siemens. For more information on this PLC and how it can help your factory, ask us how we implemented it into a renowned beer producer's manufacturing line.


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