What is a Smart factory, what it takes to build a Smart Factory, why Companies are opting for Smart Factories? Finding answers for the pondering answers, Niloy from BISinfotech gets alongside for an extensive exchange of words with Sambit Sengupta, Associate Director – Solution Sales, Avnet Asia. Sambit defines the potential of Smart Factories solutions in India as enormous. From security to Avnet’s expertise and leadership in this nascent yet bullish sector, Sambit underlines the de facto future of Smart Factories. Edited Nub Below.
According to you, what is a perfect Smart factory (implementation, technology barriers, and cost) and how promising is this sector?
A smart factory is all about increasing efficiency in different functional areas of the existing factory. In working closely with our customers, we understand from them that despite multiple technology advancements (both in-house or collaborative work with vendors), some pain points remain at the execution level. They include:
- Legacy industrial control systems that are prone to cyber threats when connected online
- Lack of real-time data and disparate data systems
- Keeping abreast of regulations and managing compliance
- Balancing maintenance with throughput
Smart factory implementation requires on-the-go access with cloud-based system, optimized efficiency and most importantly a seamless integration of different sensors and edge devices, on-premises data gateways and finally, data ingestion into the cloud. After which, there is a huge amount of analytics required.
This is a promising sector with growth prospects as there is ongoing innovation. Furthermore, with the advancement in smart sensors and cloud technologies, companies will enjoy more intelligent services at a cheaper cost. But often, the analytics portion is done as an afterthought and becomes a major technology barrier. The cost escalates if stakeholders do not see a return on investment (ROI), and ROI is determined not just by costs. Many times, we think that smart factory implementation will reduce cost, which is the eventual outcome, but if the business outcome is tallied with increased efficiency or throughput, then ROI becomes visible. All factories need to be smarter and the digital innovators of each company are working on KPIs which needs very agile implementation. A typical smart factory implementation does not concentrate on cost saving by eliminating jobs but eliminates the pain points, improves efficiency exponentially and that makes the business profitable.
Impact of Industrial Robotics is assessing, executing operations while providing productivity and efficiency?
Industrial robotics has been around since the early 1960s and has been used in welding, machine tending, and assembling in factories. The automation needs of smart factories have accelerated the growth of industrial robots from being standalone robots to collaborative and mobile robots. More integration of AI has made these industrial robots as efficient value adder in factory lines. Mobile robots or AGVs (Automatic guided vehicles) are becoming commonplace in modern factories in handling intralogistics
Avnet for long has been a partner-first company. Given this sector, where solution providers to play the lead role, how Avnet can help to make Smart Factory a reality for customers?
Avnet works with system integrators as an end to end consulting partner to implement smart factory solutions. It is always a ‘partner first’ play for us. Partners appreciate the fact that Avnet has nearly 100 years of supply chain management expertise and in-house capability to integrate various devices to the cloud (device-to-cloud or D2C), as well as provide sophisticated and customized dashboards (cloud-to-device or C2D). We can also help our partners implement various AI and machine learning models which we have developed in the past few years. A robust IIoT platform which is open to be white-labelled helps partners scale up a working proof of concept (POC) and deploy it in weeks. Our deep relationships with various sensor manufacturers assure customers of quality devices. We offer many options for our partners to choose from during the POC stage. Partners can onboard their sensor devices in our Partner Program’s DevLab as test-drive and can be risk-free during actual deployment. Furthermore, customers can tap into the Avnet ecosystem — from design to production to supply chain and logistics — throughout the lifecycle of their solution.
Omnipresence of IIOT underlines new challenges putting Cyber-security into the hot-spot. Critical security challenges faced by customers, common pitfalls in IIoT security implementation and any best practices?
Through strategic collaborations with partners, Avnet provides an end to end security implementation. The main challenge in implementing security in a connected world is to think ahead and remain one step ahead than attackers. We like to take a security approach from a “device up” manner. IIoT devices are often the sitting duck for side-channel and malware attacks. At every step of the implementation, we have to check where the probable attacks can happen- at the device level, at gateways, at data ingestion to cloud level. Avnet can deliver a complete hardware, software, cloud and middleware solution that delivers insights tailored to the customer’s specific needs.
How do you witness the holistic growth of Smart Factories in India compared to other APAC countries?
The potential for smart factory solutions being deployed in India is enormous. Some of the APAC countries such as China, Singapore, Malaysia, and Thailand have invested in smart factory solutions much earlier than Indian factories. Many core industries in India have already deployed smart factory solutions. Sectors like pharma, large manufacturing in India have different digital initiatives going on and we have a large number of talented engineers who can speed up the deployments. These deployments are world-class and have a great scope of scaling up further.
The IIOT paradigm has certainly made the market competitive, where ensuring efficient supply chain, integration and improving transparency, safety and reliability is critically important. What challenges, scopes wherein keeping the point of relevance does it incur for semiconductor players?
All semiconductor players have varying degrees of efficient supply chains and highest standards of safety and reliability. The main challenges for end customers (OEMs making endpoint devices) of semiconductors are time to market, making them dependent on the reference designs and off-the-shelf solutions including software support. Semiconductor players need to be mindful about OEM’s varied use cases, especially in new product management and efficiency improvement. Based on various market research – 32-bit MCU, a discrete application processor, image sensors, IIoT sensors, wireless connectivity and MPUs with inbuilt security is going to be the highest revenue earners. The OEMs will look up to semiconductor players to provide them not only with reliable semiconductors/ chips but also the software support. This software has to be specific for the targeted IIoT applications. Avnet plays a major role in providing these SaaS solutions where our customers or partners can simply customise them for their specific needs.
The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on smart factories segment, as it already enabling more contactless and biometric solutions, preventive and remote maintenance vital?
Factories globally were not fully prepared for the sudden pandemic. However, solutions were quickly deployed for contactless applications, such as face recognition and temperature sensor-based solutions. Many smart factories already have preventive and remote maintenance solutions. As we speak, we see a spurt of real-time location systems (RTLS) and remote-predictive maintenance solutions.
How has been Avnet helping, assisting and strategizing to tap this nascent market?
Avnet has developed a strong ecosystem to support our partners. We are focusing on business outcomes that matter to our partners and their end customers. Through our suite of advisory services and innovative workshops, we help the factory management identify the important KPIs that need to be tackled. In most cases, the defined improvement areas are in machine downtime, predictive analysis, machine idle time, the turnaround time of machines and equipment, overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and backend integration with an internal ticketing system to monitor actual performance. Avnet’s Smart Factory solution helps companies keep track of production on the factory floor and measure production performance. By leveraging our IoTConnect platform, we generate insights for customers by collating and analyzing data across machines to make processes faster and more efficient.
What trends will foster Smart Factories and pivotal future of semiconductors designing and supply chain?
Semiconductor designing and supply chain have to recognize the software requirements of various use cases. Every use case needs to be customized. The future of supply chain will be in securing the supply chain and providing a lot of programming services.
Lastly, Avnet’s solutions and portfolio complementing this sector?
Avnet believes that each smart factory solution has to be bespoke. We have deployment experience in a wide variety of use cases. For example, Avnet supported a large pharmaceutical company to set up smart factory automation by leveraging our ecosystem and IoTConnect platform. We deployed centralized remote management, predictive analytics, real-time telemetry and analytics along with performance anomaly diagnosis for the customer’s production lines that span across many countries. We tailor the solutions along with our partners with a goal of making our partners and factories profitable.