Pandemic-driven changes bring Factory of the Future into the present

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As we begin 2022, two years since the onset of COVID-19, it is clear that technologies like AI, IoT and hybrid cloud have been critical levers to help businesses achieve sustainability, resiliency, and agility in light of massive disruption. As social distancing kept workers at home, smart connectivity and the insights gathered can help scale operations on the manufacturing floor. Intelligent manufacturing can facilitate improvement in production defect detection by as much as 50 percent, and improvement in yields by 20 percent. And the IBM Institute for Business Value study revealed surveyed manufacturers reported intelligent automation has increased revenues by almost 8 percent.

Today, technology is being developed and adopted at such rapid speeds that to be competitive, companies need faster, more efficient ways of adopting innovation.  The vision is a holistic, intelligent method of designing for and adopting new technologies so that the factory learns and reacts in real-time. Digital transformation is the key to getting to this new intelligent factory and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, often called Industry 4.0, is now underway.

The evolution of data-driven autonomous systems and machine learning tools supports the promise of Industry 4.0 as organizations look to provide real time, reliable and trusted data; increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE); reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reduce energy consumption; and optimize maintenance to improve reliability and cost of manufacturing operations. One of the main roadblocks that factories face is while they now generate one terabyte of production data each day, 90+ percent of this data isn’t properly utilized and leaders often have to make decisions with old and untrusted data.

Reckitt, a British multinational consumer goods company with a portfolio of leading consumer brands including Lysol and Air Wick, faced a similar challenge due to the mixture of each brand’s own legacy equipment and systems as a result of recent acquisitions. The Reckitt team envisioned a scalable solution to meet their key challenges around productivity, waste, and sustainability, designed for simple deployment to future sites and the ability to expand use cases and drive benefits from AI. Reckitt needed a partner within the industry, whose domain and technology expertise could create a solid foundation of trusted data available to all the users in the factory and identify, develop, and implement additional use cases and bring them to life.

Reckitt began exploring options that would enable shop floor operators to stay connected to key systems using smart devices without a need to go back to their desks. The business quickly found a winning strategy through a mix of IoT and cloud technologies including Azure IoT Edge and Azure IoT Hub.  IBM Consulting, working in close collaboration with Reckitt, Microsoft and Ilabo, developed a platform that brought immediate benefits to users in Reckitt’s Nottingham factory; putting information in the hands of the operators, team leaders, technicians, and managers to help them make better decisions about which machine issue to prioritize and identify trends that allowed fact based continuous improvement. This was a key enabler to improve factory metrics while also providing a scalable template for future sites. By employing a hybrid cloud approach, Reckitt’s sensitive production data will remain secure, while benefiting from all the innovative cloud technology services that IBM, Microsoft and our other ecosystem partners have to offer.

Reckitt and IBM worked together via the IBM Garage from day one to build the Factory of the Future foundation and a roadmap of discrete use cases. IBM’s user-centric approach was designed to identify and then rapidly implement the strategic improvement opportunities starting with a minimum viable product for early user engagement. The success was built on Reckitt’s clear business objectives combined with IBM’s deep industry expertise and a track record of transforming industrial companies, brought together by applying the IBM Garage methodology to pinpoint the most important areas for improvement and fast-track innovation.

Over a nine-month period, new processes were implemented to automatically track productivity and provide the data that allowed the operators to drive improvement: by bringing together energy usage and environmental data to allow equipment to be optimized to reduce electricity consumption and the resulting carbon footprint whilst maintaining the required environment; and implementing new processes that moved maintenance from time based to cycle or condition based by linking machine sensors back to the maintenance systems. This allowed maintenance crews to become much more effective whilst also increasing equipment availability

IBM’s work for Reckitt’s global roll-out of Factory of the Future and replicable templates for business’ different factories were all powered by a hybrid cloud approach, which creates the possibility of having a collaborative environment for all users with access to real-time information to share across the entire factory site.

In addition to increasing visibility and traceability across the factory, IBM has helped Reckitt recognize and mitigate risks, delays and unwanted expenditures that can stem from unseen data or insights. This soon-to-be standardized Factory of the Future program and unified digitization framework to be deployed in factories in the US and Asia, will create more efficiency and reliability within their operations around the world.

Senior Partner, IBM Consulting UK & Ireland

Skip Snyder

Senior Partner, IBM Consulting

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