The road to a Smart Factory with zenon

The Internet of Things and today's production environment

Future concepts of cyber-physical systems and the Internet of Things (IoT) in production involve discussions of fully networked, self-organizing production systems. These systems define the high-tech strategy Industry 4.0 as key components of a Smart Factory.


Until we reach complete digital manufacturing, there is a great deal of research and development ahead. The networking of sensors and actuators via the Internet means that with our current level of technology, we face unanswered questions such as real-time compatibility and security, which are needed in an industrial context.


A fully automated factory using IoT is not the only way to bring manufacturing into the future. With hybrid architectures, we can already tap into their less explored potential in resource efficiency, effectiveness and flexibility in manufacturing. As long as network infrastructures and protocols do not allow real-time-capable processes via the Internet, we will work with architectures that function with a “division of labor” – both decentralized and central intelligence. And, as humans will continue to play a significant and increasingly important role in production for the foreseeable future, the continuous improvement of ergonomics and the reduction of labor costs will remain important factors in production.


The Internet of Things is now present in virtually all areas of daily life – from fitness wrist bands that communicate with the cloud, and parking sensors that provide information for higher-level parking guidance systems, to intelligent refrigerators that keep track of the produce storage. But what is the significance of IoT in production?


IoT developments have allowed manufacturers to create smart factories, manufacturing facilities that use a constant data supply from sensors and other IoT devices to monitor operations, adapt to challenges automatically and improve resource efficiency and ergonomics. Smart factories use software like zenon to automate and control processes to increase their level of adaptability.

IoT have allowed manufacturers to create smart factories that use Industry 4.0 technology to automate and control processes and improve resource efficiency.

As with so many developments in industrial manufacturing, the journey to the digital factory will be a continuous evolution rather than an overnight industrial revolution. Existing heterogenic production equipment, long investment cycles and limited possibilities for experimenting with ongoing production are the typical prevailing conditions.


Let’s consider the way to the Smart Factory as a journey that started over 40 years ago with the invention of the programmable logic controller (PLC). Today, we can think of PC-based automation as an intermediate step to the digital factory.


For a long time, the reliable control of industrial processes was considered the main task of automation. At the same time, a consistent flow of information through automation allows you to produce more intelligently. In turn, applications and logics today allow us to save resources, become more effective and produce more flexibly.


Although Smart Factory technology is still in development, you can start harnessing the benefits of smart manufacturing today. Here's what you need to know about the challenges and opportunities associated with industrial automation.


Smart Factory challenges and opportunities

To successfully implement smart manufacturing, businesses must contend with:

  • Large amounts of data: IoT devices connected throughout a Smart Factory constantly collect data about the manufacturing process. This data is rendered useless without the right analysis tools. The number of interconnected devices needed to collect data may raise security concerns, since more devices means more points of entry into the network. That's why it's crucial to choose the right software platform for industrial automation.
  • Outdated production lines: Complex machinery is expensive and rarely replaced. A business may need to phase out old equipment before it can purchase machines compatible with Smart Factory technology. With hardware-independent Smart Factory software, retrofitting becomes a more viable option.
  • System complexity: Interconnectivity adds greater complexity to your system. Each element must integrate with others and perform as expected. Ensuring each small sensor is functioning properly and can take significant time and resources.


The benefits of smart factories far outweigh the need to manage large amounts of data and source interconnected components. With Smart Factory technology, you can:

  • Reduce costs: By optimizing your processes and data management, you can reduce operational costs by using resources more efficiently.
  • Improve efficiency: Analyzing data from your Smart Factory can help you correct or eliminate underperforming assets. A Smart Factory adapts to demand and allows for predictable inventory requirements, minimizing downtime and maximizing productivity.
  • Increase product quality: A Smart Factory monitors products for quality defects and identifies trends, allowing you to make adjustments for higher yield rates and customer satisfaction.
  • Minimize production downtime: Smart Factory technology monitors machine performance around the clock. With these insights, you can perform predictive maintenance on equipment to prevent breakdowns before they occur.

With Smart Factory technology, you can reduce costs, improve efficiency, increase product quality and minimize production downtime.

Seven steps towards a Smart Factory

To start implementing Smart Factory principles in your manufacturing facility, take these seven steps:


1. Bring people together: Besides technological challenges, manufacturers also face organizational challenges. Driven by the IT/OT convergence, the people who set the business goals and objectives need to align with those who know what is technologically possible. This requires a cross-disciplinary team with representatives from production (including automation and the operational technology), IT, marketing and sales, as well supply chain management.


2. Find a common language: Terms like the Internet of Things, cyber-physical systems, information flows, business processes, the total cost of ownership, return on investment, and investment cycles abound around the concept of the Smart Factory. Before a discussion can even happen, the team should sync on the actual problems needing to address and turn technological and business jargon into shared, actionable targets.


3. Define business objectives: Technology enthusiasts tend to evaluate ideas from the perspective of technological feasibility. If technology is a tool to better fulfill the purpose of the company, the business objectives should be the main focus. To define the objectives, companies should ask themselves: Would manufacturing with more flexibility help us attract additional customer groups? What costs (e.g. energy, raw materials) would pose a risk to our business model? What should our production do to increase customer satisfaction and loyalty? What can help us stand out from the competition?


4. Determine the ideal status: Once the business objectives are clear, it is possible to define an ideal status of your business: An autonomous factory? Product customization to achieve batch size one or lot size one production? Shorter cycles from product design to delivery?


5. Perform a cost/benefit assessment and create an investment plan: Companies should also estimate what additional profits to expect from the business objectives. By conducting the assessment, companies will also define how much they want to invest to eventually achieve the ideal status, taking into account the risks.


6. Match technologies, taking into account costs and benefits: Knowing what you need, where the journey will take you and the investment framework, you can evaluate how to reach the ideal status with the technology available today. Manufacturers will often start to see positive results when they have completed step 1 through 5. It will also become clear which technologies are still missing in which areas, in order to take the next steps.


7. Begin implementation and continuous improvement: Last but not least, put your plan to work. Many companies begin with a pilot project to test the equipment, software and organizational coordination. As these aspects of your project start to yield results, you can scale up your Smart Factory plan. Industrial software such as zenon, for example, can scale and grow as your business expands. In the meantime, continuously monitor the implementation and integration of the previous steps and make improvement plans for the future.

Knowing what you need, where the journey will take you and the investment framework, you can evaluate how to reach the ideal status with available technology.

How COPA-DATA helps you manage your Smart Factory

At COPA-DATA, our zenon Software Platform helps manufacturing businesses take advantage of Smart Factory technology. zenon comes with two major elements — the Engineering Studio, which allows system integrators to design projects, and the Service Engine, which provides graphical and customizable interfaces you can use to operate projects.


When you choose zenon as your Smart Factory software, you can benefit from flexibility, scalability, situational awareness and optimal security, including role-based user administration and network encryption. COPA-DATA develops wizards and tools in-house to make operations faster and easier. We are a hardware-independent software provider, so you can use zenon with many types of existing equipment.


Industries that rely on zenon to collect data and automate processes include:



Contact COPA-DATA to learn more about our solutions

Implementing zenon in your manufacturing can help you reach your business goals with improved efficiency, product quality and much more. In addition to software, COPA-DATA offers training and support services tailored to your industry, use case and level of expertise. To learn more about our Smart Factory solutions, contact us today.