We’re in the midst of a significant transformation regarding the way we produce products thanks to the digitization of manufacturing. This transition is so compelling that it is being called Industry 4.0 to represent the fourth revolution that has occurred in manufacturing. From the first industrial revolution (mechanization through water and steam power) to the mass production and assembly lines using electricity in the second, the fourth industrial revolution will take what was started in the third with the adoption of computers and automation and enhance it with smart and autonomous systems fueled by data and machine learning. When computers were introduced in Industry 3.0, it was disruptive thanks to the addition of an entirely new technology. Now, and into the future as Industry 4.0 unfolds, computers are connected and communicate with one another to ultimately make decisions without human involvement. A combination of cyber-physical systems, the Internet of Things and the Internet of Systems make Industry 4.0 possible and the smart factory a reality. As a result of the support of smart machines that keep getting smarter as they get access to more data, our factories will become more efficient and productive and less wasteful. Ultimately, it's the network of these machines that are digitally connected with one another and create and share information that results in the true power of Industry 4.0.
Introduction Microfactory is a small-to-medium scale, highly automated, and technologically advanced manufacturing setup, which has a wide range of process capabilities. Typically, it is a manufacturing facility whose output can be scaled up by replicating such setups in large numbers. Microfactory requires less energy, less material, and a small labor force, owing to the high-tech automated processes. The concept of microfactory also promotes the miniaturization of production equipment and systems according to the product dimension. This helps in reducing the size of the factory, which, in turn, needs less capital, as well as lowers operating expenses. Since the development of the first microfactory concept in 1990, it has witnessed technological advancements and has found applications in multiple commercial manufacturing processes. Development of the Microfactory Concept The concept of microfactory was first proposed in 1990 by the Mechanical Engineer Laboratory (MEL) of Japan. Post that, MEL worked for almost a decade on a project to downsize machine tools and manufacturing systems. MEL developed a microlathe smaller than a human palm in 1996. This encouraged MEL to create a prototype of an entire machining factory, which further resulted in the creation of the first desktop fabrication system for producing micro ball bearings in 1999. This system was made available to the international community at the start of the 20th century.
autoport power
Traditional Manufacturing Model vs. Microfactory The traditional manufacturing concept advocates reducing costs by building a large factory to achieve economies of scale and mass production; however, it needs an extensive and costly distribution network to make products available to customers. Microfactory, on the contrary, challenges this concept by setting up multiple small, but high-tech manufacturing units, within close proximity to customers, which can function as retail outlets providing a customized product. Another difference between these two models is the sales strategy. In the traditional manufacturing model, products are first manufactured in large quantities and then pushed to the market through various distribution channels, whereas, in the microfactory concept, products are manufactured only after getting confirmed orders from the customer, thereby generating pull from the market. Here is the example of a hypothetical business case of manufacturing 250,000 cars per annum, to compare traditional manufacturing versus microfactory. Both these setups are different and have several aspects that would lead to a complex comparison matrix. Exhibit 1 refers to the comparison matrix that is based on a few selected parameters.
Product Distribution Traditionally, the time tested Henry Ford’s method of mass production has been well accepted in the manufacturing industry. Manufacturers have been consolidating their manufacturing facilities to create a huge factory producing high rates of output. This has helped them achieve economies of scale by reducing costs; however, building a huge factory requires very high capital investment. At the same time, these mass-production factories produce a very high quantity of output, which needs geographically extensive markets to absorb this large volume produced. This, in turn, requires an extensive distribution network of stockists, wholesalers, and retailers, to make products available to potential customers. In contrast, the concept of microfactory is based on having a technologically advanced, small-to-medium-sized manufacturing facility located very near to the customer, acting as a retail outlet, eliminating the need for the cumbersome and costly distribution network. Standardized Design vs. Customized Product Another aspect is that in the mass production setup, products manufactured are standard, and any changes in the product design add to the cost significantly, to change over the dies and tooling. A typical microfactory setup is very flexible and one can change product design at no or bare minimum cost. Microfactories are ideal for production in small batches with different designs/specifications without any hassle. In fact, some of the microfactories in the garment industry are producing each piece customized by the user. For instance, customers can send their favorite customized designs to the manufacturer using the app provided by them and can receive a perfectly-fitted and styled cloth the next day. This aspect of customization also helps in creating consumer demand, and production happens only when the manufacturer has received a confirmed order from the customer. This ability to provide personalization creates pull from the market for manufacturers’ products. In addition, manufacturers produce each customized product and sell it then and there, without the need for carrying any inventory of manufactured products. The traditional model believes in manufacturing large quantities of standard products and emphasizes the need to push products in the market for sale. It also needs ample space to store products, which, in turn, incurs the cost of inventory.
Benefits and Drivers of Microfactories Microfactories are capable of providing high-mix, low-volume customized products with a high return on investment. Hence, the transition of manufacturing players from using larger manufacturing facilities to smaller, agile, and highly-automated microfactories is not very far. Some experts believe that the manufacturing technology is getting ready to embrace the microfactory concept, and the industry would witness the development of a number of new microfactories over the next 10 years. Increased Innovation – Microfactories are versatile, highly-automated factories that enable lean manufacturing and boost the rate of innovation by integrating several functions, including crowdsourcing and crowdfunding. Being a small automated setup, microfactories enables several tests and iterations to be performed on a small scale without impacting the time and cost. Whereas, in a traditional factory establishment, the impact of time and cost on several iterations would be huge. Lower Costs – Microfactories are small-sized factories that require less floor space compared to traditional large factories. Hence, the energy consumption and raw material consumption of the factory is less, thus creating reduced waste and emissions. This positively impacts the operating energy, environmental energy, and processing energy of the factory, ensuring cost savings. In addition, microfactories also cuts down on labor costs, as the factory is highly automated with the support of artificial intelligence and robotics. Increased Productivity – Microfactories require a small team of skilled workforce for functioning and does not depend on huge manual labor. In addition to the agility and high automation levels of microfactories, the engagement level of workers is also very high, which naturally boosts their morale towards work, thereby increasing productivity. Workers in the factory have the freedom to try out new methods apart from the standardized ones, due to the small-scale investment nature both in terms of time and cost. Supports Mass Customization/Personalization – Customization/personalization of products is becoming a new trend in the manufacturing sector, both in the industrial and commercial space. This trend is driving manufacturers toward small factory space, such as microfactories, as it provides high-mix, low-volume manufacturing capability, wherein products can be customized and manufactured on-demand.
autoport power
autoport power
Industrial IoT is a subset of the Internet of Things, where various sensors, Radio Frequency Identification (RFID) tags, software and electronics are integrated with industrial machines and systems to collect real-time data about their condition and performance. Big Data refers to the large and complex data sets generated by IoT devices. This data comes from a wide range of cloud and enterprise applications, websites, computers, sensors, cameras and much more — all coming in different formats and protocols. With recent advancements in technology, a new generation of advanced robotics is emerging, capable of performing difficult and delicate tasks. Powered by cutting-edge software and sensors, they can recognise, analyse and act upon information they receive from the environment, and even collaborate and learn from humans. Augmented reality bridges the gap between the digital and physical worlds by superimposing virtual images or data onto a physical object. For this, the technology uses AR-capable devices, such as smartphones, tablets and smart glasses.

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