Technology and People Together Enable the Smart Factories

Technology and People Together Enable the Smart Factories

Sebastian Gottschalk, VP Global Engineering, Process Development and SC Strategy, Beiersdorf AG

1. What are some of the major challenges and trends that have been impacting the Smart Factory space lately?

For us, the consumer is in the centre of our attention, also for the digitalization of our supply chain. That is why capabilities to create value, together with our trade partners, for the consumer is an important question to us besides exploiting the efficiency potentials of the smart factories. The global pandemic has accelerated digital interaction of consumers globally, important trends we are working on are e.g., tighter integration of our shop floor OT with the end-to-end planning and order fulfilment to become faster in our response to demand, mass customization technologies to provide a more individualized offerings including even fully consumer personalized products and end to end traceability in the context of sustainability.

2. What keeps you up at night when it comes to some of the major predicaments in the Smart Factory space?

Digitalization and the smart factory are in essence based on vertical and horizontal connectivity and data integration. This also significantly increases the exposure to risks of cyber security. Questions around network segmentation, system standards and patching, backup and recovery strategies and IT/ OT governance for access administration and change control are key areas in which we are investing.

“While we tend to focus a lot on technology when thinking about the smart factory, the key to success remain people”

While we tend to focus a lot on technology when thinking about the smart factory, the key to success remain people - engineers need to understand processes and think ‘use’ when designing new solutions, users need to be willing and trained to exploit the benefits of new IT and automation systems and above all, ways of working and roles of our staff will change when systems take over repetitive tasks, can optimize procedures and actively propose decisions. Besides the usual design and roll-out organization of new applications and systems our projects are accompanied by a much more intensive co-creation between operations and engineering, investment into training and use support and proactive change management.

3. Can you tell us about the latest project that you have been working on and what are some of the technological and process elements that you leveraged to make the project successful?

Digitalization requires huge investments into connectivity, IT/OT infrastructure to be able to collect, connect and process data. From the experience reports with Industry 4.0 over the last years, we learn that many companies are struggling to see the payback of these investments. That is why we designed our approach around defining use cases for functionalities with a specific benefit and return out of which minimum viable products (MVP) can be built. The technical implementation of these MVPs contributes to building up our mid-term envisioned IT/OT architecture. The use cases, often efficiency improvements, finance in this way our digital programs.

We also experience a change in how we deal with software. In the past, we would have spent a lot of effort to adapt a software to our processes and specific ways of working, resulting in complex and expensive projects. Today we rather try to deploy standard software and combine different system solutions available on the market into an eco-system around our operational core. This goes hand in hand with our approach to build digitalization through Minimum Viable Product s and the general industry trend to Software as a Service.

4. Which are some of the technological trends which excite you for the future of Smart Factory space?

One of the most interesting technological trends is in my view is around edge computing. It will allow exploring benefits known from the IT space in the environment of operational technologies. It opens the door to integrate advanced sensoring, especially of vision systems, into a smart control of operational processes and machines, application of AI and prescriptive analytics in the operational control environment.

We are also watching out with high interests in technologies to integrate the operators and experts. The cost of devices like smart glasses, wearables, 3D cameras etc keeps decreasing and will make a natural real-time interaction between humans and systems affordable. At the same time, gamification can strengthen user engagement around new systems and technologies, new learning and support option allow a tangible benefit for the individual.

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