The current scenarios are driving the concept of dark factories. Industries have been interested in dark factories or lights-out factories to bring efficiency to complex operations within factories. Effective usages of technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Cloud Computing, Blockchain, Augmented Reality, and IoT while establishing dark factories would help companies increase production. So, here I am going to discuss a few tips beneficial for dark factory establishment.
We have already reached a stage where robots are manufacturing objects without human intervention. But have you heard that these robots can also perform in the dark, meaning "a place without any light, heat, or air"? Yes, I am talking about the "Dark factory" or "Lights-out factory", where robots can work in dark without any human intervention.
In recent years, dark factories are getting popular among diverse industries. China is number one in the world to adopt dark factories. Japanese robotic company, Fanuc is world-famous for using dark factories. The company is making robots with the help of robots since 2001. The latest study says that the company is building around 50 robots in a day without light, heat, or air. Besides, a Dutch company, Philips, has already implemented dark factories for making electric razors. The company has only nine humans working as quality assessors to supervise processes.
The installation of a dark factory needs strategic planning for the effective use of tools and technologies. The lack of strategies could lead to various challenges like safety, reliability, flexibility, and network performance. Besides, expensive installation costs and lack of quality are other major challenges. We can overcome these challenges through the effective use of technologies.
How, so let's discuss some exciting strategic tips for establishing dark factories in a better way:
The dark factories have eliminated the need for human intervention. It depends only on robots and machines that work together in a dark automated environment. The lights-out manufacturing operations offer benefits including efficient business operations, and high capacities to process huge data, mass productions, quality products, no requirement of unskilled laborers, and lower labor costs. These benefits are attracting industries to switch towards dark factories. Although, challenges associated with dark factory establishment are making them think twice before making a final decision.
The most prominent feature of blockchain is that it could be used in places where there is a lack of trust among business associates. Different digital ledger databases are already offering services to factories. The basic concept of a blockchain database is: whenever participants submit updates to the ledger, it uses an automated process to take approval on updates from other participants within the network. Thus, a blockchain builds a record of all transactions and other agreements.
The AutomationWorld has shared the most foreseen application for blockchain in manufacturing industries. It describes the following uses: which include traceability (55%), record management (53%), supply chain automation (51%), and payment via cryptocurrencies (51%). One of the biggest concerns while implementing dark factories is data security concerning interconnected and automated systems. In a dark factory setup, the data is shared across machines, systems, supply chain partners, machinery providers, manufacturers, and associated business partners. It raises the question of data security within factories. The auditing, six-sigma practices, documentation, etc., have been used to build trust among different stakeholders of dark factories. All these lead to expensive costs.
So, how can we utilize the blockchain to overcome these concerns? The following tips could help companies bring competition in manufacturing sectors through blockchain.
● The Internet of Things or IoT connects the objects through the internet to encourage data automation and sharing. The integration of blockchain with IoT would enhance data security, reliability, transparency, and interoperability. Hardware and software are fundamental components of dark factories and, this integration would support checking hardware identity and make stable documentation. Top IoT companies, Cisco and Bosch, are developing an "Open Source Standard" to integrate IoT and blockchain effectively. The standard would bring a smart card interface for seamless data movement within blockchain-enabled systems.
● Another way to use blockchain is: Use the existing feature of "Self-managed blockchain" and affix tools to improve facilities and enhance production. It is referred to as "Blockchain as a Service or BaaS" to organize host nodes in the cloud platforms and local storages.
● The next innovative way to use blockchain is: Use the "Pay-per-use" model or "Machines as a Services/MaaS" that offers services, machinery, and equipment to customers who can pay according to the generated output. It would be best for heavy manufacturing industries like aircraft, boats, tractors.
Low Fidelity or, in short, LiFi is a modern practical technology to deliver and transmit data using visible, ultraviolet, or infrared lights rather than radio frequencies. It is also considered to be a promising technology as researchers are still working on it.
Dark factories are facing issues in data transmission and communication because of radio-frequency signals. Theoretically, the radio frequencies have high speed, but practically, the data speed is lower. This variation is causing high latency issue. The overall output is a delay in data communication within machines, systems, and other connected objects. The technology has the potential to overcome these challenges and issues associated with data transmission through 5G.
The LiFi technology supports smooth communication among all machinery and does not cause network interference like radio frequency systems Communication without delay leads to improved productivity and quality of products/services. The high transmission speed and broad bandwidth could enhance the efficiency of the manufacturing processes. In this way, the adoption of this technology would support automation more reliably within dark factories. Hence, choosing this technology within dark factories would be a better decision for a manufacturer to generate fast and secure data communication among all interconnected parts.
We already highlighted that the integration of IoT with blockchain could bring a drastic improvement in dark factories. The main objective of IoT is to build smart objects using sensors, software, and hardware. IoT is already offering remote monitoring, chip management, security, loading/unloading of materials, maintenance, etc., in dark factories. In short, without IoT, building a dark factory is not possible. So, how can we improve the operations through IoT? The answer is by developing a new IoT platform as per industry requirements that would enhance automation. Developing an IoT platform is not complex and does not require huge investment. The initial investment in developing an IoT platform will benefit the manufacturer in the long run.
We all know that dark factories face issues in the supply chain section and face end-to-end data management and analysis problems. The development of a new platform would support effective data processing, analytics, and output delivery.
Let’s see an example of a company that brought a new IoT platform by merging it with manufacturing execution and intelligence system to encourage the adoption of dark factories. The company's name is Critical Manufacturing, which uses the Manufacturing Execution System (MES) to build Industry 4.0 or Dark Factories. . It is also offering high-tech and complex products. The company aims only to drive productivity across the supply chain. The company recently launched a more advanced and disruptive product, "Industry 4.0 MES", a new IoT data platform. The company has integrated MES with IoT to bring innovation in material logistics and automation. This new approach can overcome all possible challenges associated with data management in dark factory installation.
Manufacturers know that ensuring security, reliability, and high network performance within dark factories is challenging; and, a single technology can't provide this surety. Besides, market demands to scale up production with efficacy. We already discussed that blockchain and IoT have features to improve security in specific areas. Along with these technologies, the implementation of cloud computing and edge computing could overcome these challenges.
Edge computing has the potential to reduce latency, increase network performance, and deliver reliable services, whereas cloud computing can scale platforms to process huge data. Combining decentralized edge computing and centralized cloud computing will bring an effective industrial automation platform for dark factories. We can call this platform a centralized ecosystem that could produce multiple data resources and process data. For instance, "Industrial Cloud" is a customized platform to support industrial automation. In short, it can efficiently analyze edge computing data that ensures data reliability within the dark factory.
Another trending technology, Augmented Reality (AR), is getting popular by providing a real-world experience to people in a virtual environment. AR is using audio, visual, and other sensory elements for creating a simulated environment. . High implementation cost is a critical challenge for manufacturers while considering AR technology in their dark factories, which prevents them from using it. However, the technology could help them to install dark factories prudently.
Manufacturers should have used AR for focusing on lights-out processes. For instance, the supply chain is a critical part of dark factory operations. If we could use AR to find out approx time for material movements and their management, it would be helpful to make the supply chain more flexible. Similarly, the technology AR can also be considered a coach to understand the data processing according to business needs. These two things would help the companies to install dark factories to smooth business operations.
Nowadays, automation and digitation have become a priority for businesses. For industrial companies, dark factories are a modern manufacturing method where operations take place in the dark. These businesses seek to execute tedious and risky operations in a safe environment. The arrival of dark factories is helping them to run a factory using programming robots without human interference. We are already aware that dark factory is the outcome of different technologies. We also explored that how it could be used more productively in manufacturing operations. Making changes in manufacturing processes would encourage industries to adopt the future of factories to be competent in technology.
The manufacturers must consider factors such as feasibility, benefits, associated regulations, and compliance with business objectives irrespective of technologies. It is because all these directly impact the decisions of installation. According to current business problems, it is suggested to use one or more technologies in dark factories.