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3 ways smart factories make it easier to build materials testing products

Buehler plays a crucial role in ensuring the structural integrity of metal objects. Your materials testing products are part of the reason we have defect-free auto parts and durable jet engines.

But the manufacturing industry—Buehler included—is battling more headwinds than ever. There are ongoing supply chain disruptions. A domestic labor shortage. And the worsening effects of climate change.

To continue growing in this new reality, Buehler and its customers will need not just smart leadership and dedicated workers, but also intelligence that comes from the factory itself––the so-called “smart factory.” What does this mean on a practical level?

It means embracing the technologies of Industry 4.0: industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), machine learning, advanced automation, and more. These technologies can transform factories from a place where work happens to a self-regulating stream of manufacturing knowledge.

With the help of smart factories, Buehler can adapt to unexpected circumstances and consistently produce safe, high-quality products. Here, we’ll look at three concrete ways manufacturing leaders can use Industry 4.0 technologies to supercharge their facilities.

1. Streamline inventory management

Inventory management is more than a revenue concern. Supply bottlenecks and shipping delays can have disastrous downstream impacts on Buehler’s customers, not to mention their own end users.

While a smart factory can’t fix external factors, it can provide better forecasting and tracking. For example, AI-powered analytics tools can evaluate asset tracking data throughout Buehler’s supply chain and predict accurate delivery times. And thanks to continuous data streams, these tools can adjust predictions in real time (i.e., as soon as a coolant shipment stalls or a conveyor belt breaks down) so that you can communicate expectations with your customers.

A smart factory can do even more to help manage the forces within its walls. Take the ongoing baby formula shortage, for example. The shortage happened because of a failure to maintain sanitary conditions in the production facility––something a smart factory would have called attention to long before it caused a nationwide crisis, perhaps with WiFi- and Bluetooth-connected data loggers.

These devices can relay key environmental data (about temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.) to the cloud for central access. And companion software can send alerts when an environment has gotten too hot or humid—valuable information when storing sensitive consumables, for instance. This way, workers can quickly resolve problems and preserve product quality.

The takeaway? The industrial Internet of Things enables the “intelligence” throughout a factory to coalesce into a powerful guiding force that enables better outcomes at every level.

2. Slash equipment downtime

Imagine a team that monitors several robotic packaging machines. Workers might physically check machine functionality every few hours. But one day, a few machine arms jam up between checks—and the whole packaging line screeches to a halt.

Equipment failures like these are the last thing you want. And with a shrinking industry-wide manufacturing workforce, workers may be too overstretched to quickly resolve machine issues. Translation: greater downtime that impacts customer satisfaction and Buehler’s revenue.

Again, Industry 4.0 technologies can help. Connected asset-tracking devices can continuously monitor equipment health. Then, connected software can push alerts to the appropriate worker at regular service intervals or when a machine falls below established performance thresholds. This ensures that maintenance happens before breakdowns occur.

The smart factory is able to communicate its “symptoms” to factory managers in the way a child might say they have a headache. Except the smart factory is much more advanced than a child: it’s powered by extensive AI-fueled insights and can guide Buehler in exactly how to address each problem.

3. Simplify compliance

Smart factories can expedite compliance efforts by eliminating a lot of the manual tedium. With Industry 4.0 technologies, factory managers can access essential records in a cloud-based app for convenient analysis and reporting.

For example, let’s say Buehler needs to submit records about quality management training ahead of an ISO 9001 surveillance audit. In a smart factory, workers can complete training modules through a web or mobile app that saves all training progress to the cloud. Then, factory managers can pull each worker’s training data to generate reports that automatically include information about the…

  • Trainer and trainee.

  • Training date and duration.

  • Training content and evaluations.

The bottom line: a smart factory can capture the reporting data needed to make audits—and compliance—a breeze.

Smart factories give you the floor-level knowledge to adapt

There will always be risks that come from forces outside of your control. Embracing the smart factory model is all about minimizing the risks that are within your control, which eases the impact of external disruptions when they occur.

At scale, smart factories can empower Buehler to boost productivity, product quality, worker safety, and regulatory compliance—no matter the industry headwinds.

The key to achieving the best smart factory ROI: an innovation strategy that can continuously adapt to the needs of users and the business. That’s where we come in.

For over 20 years, TXI has partnered with manufacturing companies to build powerful digital products. With user-driven design, collaborative ideation, and a fail-fast mentality, we can work with your team to do the same—and help you sustain a culture of innovation.

Interested in how a smart factory can help Buehler? Let’s have a conversation.

Published by Andrew Horner , Jason Hehman

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