The future factory will be built on smart data

Published on 14 June 2021

Traditional manufacturing – and business generally – is being transformed by smart technology. Digitalisation, cyber-physical(1) systems and interconnectivity allow unprecedented opportunities to optimise production processes and increase performance. SPIE is bringing the revolution to its customers.

Jérôme Morisson and Clarissa Hack Solutions & expertise director at SPIE Industrie & Tertiaire division Industrie and Head of digital transformation at SPIE Deutschland & Zentraleuropa

Is industry 4.0 the industry of the future?

Jérôme Morisson: The term has become sort of a buzzword, and it is associated in many people’s minds simply with data collection and storage without any real industrial objective, which can lead to a level of mistrust. But I would say the real objective is the smart utilisation of data to improve performance. For SPIE, this means accompanying our customers in this digital transformation to help them collect and store data, to safeguard it, to analyse it and above all to understand how best to capitalise on it.

Clarissa Hack: For me, Industry 4.0 means an intelligent system in which every aspect of a work site – products, machines, processes, humans – are all connected with each other and sharing information. This is made possible with what we call the IoT (Internet of Things), a network of interrelated devices that share data. The result is a business that is more productive, more flexible, safer and less wasteful, which is what we are making a reality for the future.

How is SPIE making its customers’ sites more intelligent?

Clarissa: One exciting application in industry is digital building twins. These are basically virtual images that show the entire processes and equipment at a site, giving us a real-time representation of everything in the building or electrical substation or any other site. This allows proactive management that optimises operations and reduces production downtime: experts can diagnose problems remotely, so when they go on site they can deal with them directly, or they can anticipate when maintenance is required. We are also piloting a telepresence robot – a self-driving, two-wheeled, mobile robot that can be controlled remotely – this is another way we can monitor equipment from a distance, saving time and effort and enhancing worker safety.

Jérôme: As Clarissa says, both predictive maintenance and safety are areas where we can really help our customers with smart tools. Digital technology allows us to make millions of calculations and test multitudes of scenarios simultaneously to generate data that helps us pre-empt problems. Another way we can improve quality control and safety is with track-and-trace solutions. In highly sensitive contexts in which it is absolutely critical not to unintentionally leave anything behind – imagine leaving a clamp in a jet engine, for example – we equip maintenance tools with RFID tags so that when the technician puts the toolbox through a tunnel it detects the ID number to ensure every tool is accounted for.

What is the priority for the future?

Jérôme: In our day-to-day contact with customers we note that they are looking for more than just technical support, but a partner that can help them define and co-construct the digital platform best adapted to their needs. To propose the right offer – tools, methods, expertise, etc. – we need to work closely with them and understand their challenges and objectives to set up tailored solutions. Our primary goal is to design and implement the solution that meets their aims, collaborating with startups to offer a complete package that is robust and reliable.

Clarissa: SPIE is a member of the joint research platform Arena2036 in Germany, an innovation lab that allows us to connect with industry partners to see what their future visions are, what they are working towards, and what kind of services they need. This gives us insight into their strategic perspectives and brings us much closer to their processes. It is also a very good opportunity for us to show our expertise and our ability to work with them to develop proof of concept, from 5G to robotic process automation. The more connected we are to our customers, the better the services we can provide for them.

(1) A cyber-physical system is a system where computer elements collaborate to control and command physical entities.