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Five examples of today’s smart factories

Smart factories, mills, and plants optimize efficiency and productivity in numerous ways, combining physical production processes with digital technology, smart computing, and big data. What kind of actions are we talking about in practice? To illustrate the path forward, we gathered five real-life inspirational smart factory examples of the steps industrial companies have taken toward intelligent factory automation creating a smarter, more efficient, and sustainable future.

1. Doing things smarter decreases energy consumption and increases efficiency

Consumer goods company Henkel has a long-term target to triple its value at the same environmental footprint by 2030 and a vision to become a climate-positive company by 2040. 

Together with Etteplan the company and its business unit Laundry & Homecare established a comprehensive efficiency solution that included PLC, EMS, Big data, and OEE development. The EMS, short for Energy Management System, includes roughly 4.000 physical and virtual sensors collecting over one million data points per day in 27 factories worldwide. 

Etteplan also provided development, enhancements, maintenance, support, and training for the EMS solution, resulting in reducing year-on-year energy consumption by up to 18% in 2021. Overall, investing in more sustainable processes and automation equipment truly pays off. In Henkel’s case, full payback was received within four years, ROI quadrupled after eight years – and equipment efficiency has had improvements of 15% after just two years.

2. Business critical information with the help from drones

Swedish mining company Boliden previously  used a manual method, counting the truckloads to understand how many tons of ore were stockpiled and using the conveyor weightometer to estimate how much had been removed. However, this method is subject to variations. They also used a specially equipped airplane for photographing the area which had to be scheduled as it was operated by an external company.

Together with Etteplan’s experts, Boliden started using drones to measure volumes for ore stockpiles. This information is useful for the mill to understand the tonnage (value) of the stockpiled ore. The savings are huge, up to 30 % depending on the size of the area to be flown and for zome companies, business critical information.

The benefits of UAVs (Unmanned aerial vehicles) are numerous; lower costs, increased safety, and less environmental impact. Also, the calculations proved to be much more accurate than manual calculations. The accuracy now for stockpiled ore is within 5%.

3. Smart partnerships create business benefits

Fastems is a provider of intelligent factory automation solutions. Etteplan is Fastems’ software development services partner in designing, developing, software testing, and implementing the control systems of flexible manufacturing systems (FMS). 

An important element of the collaboration is developing and bringing to light Fastems’ software testing practices and processes, for instance, through reporting. The test automation processes have been developed such that Etteplan’s software testers can simultaneously serve several different projects quickly and efficiently. 

In practice, this means, for instance, building test automation parameters that can be easily modified for each project. The cost savings are substantial, as the entire test automation does not need to be built separately for each project. 

4. Digital technical documentation enables efficiency and accuracy

DKG Group’s production facility spreads over 56,000 square meters, has 240 employees, and produces 500 kitchens a day. DKG Group is a “Quick adopter” of the latest developments, and new products can be included in their kitchen ranges in no time. In the old world, that also meant stacks of cardboard boxes containing the paper assembly instructions. 

With Etteplan HowTo, DKG was able to have all its documentation in one platform, always available on-demand and up to date. Searching for a specific instruction became much faster with digital technical documentation compared to a printed manual. Any instructional videos and animations could also be used for product presentations. 

The assembly instructions are now part of the product development process in DKG, and digital technical documentation enables tangible business benefits. No more print manuals in boxes, just a QR code that takes you directly to the digital manual on the portal.

5. Effortless product training and cost-efficient design with a digital twin

Finnish Sleipner manufactures and markets transport systems for tracked equipment. The company’s customers operate in the mining, quarrying, and earth-moving industry. 

The company markets and sells its products worldwide through distributors but also provides a digital platform for its customers to access all their aftermarket services under one portal. 

One of the key tasks of aftermarket service is to train users and distributors as well as ensure and maintain their know-how so that the end customer gets the full benefit of the product and knows how to use it safely. The training used to take place on the customer’s actual production machines, which reduced the utilization rate of the machines and thus temporarily reduced productivity. 

With the help of Etteplan and Mevea Ltd, the company developed a digital twin, i.e., a simulation model. Around 80 % of product training can now be carried out on a digital twin. The simulation model can also be used in other ways, such as in sales demos.

The digital twin significantly lowers logistics and training costs and speeds up the commissioning of the machine. The most important benefit is the improvement in the machine’s utilization rate, as it no longer has to be taken out of the field for training purposes.