Any manufacturer with a complex production line understands the importance of having a connected factory. By deploying machines that can communicate and share data with a central system, a manufacturer can adapt to operational needs in real time to drive efficiencies and improve the bottom line. But connected factories also face challenges that can hamper success if left unaddressed.

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Here are three of the biggest challenges confronting these facilities, as well as some of the solutions they can use to overcome them.

1. Equipment Health Monitoring

In any factory, equipment failure has an immediate effect on production. The same goes for changes in a machine’s performance: If a conveyor belt is slowed even slightly, the change in its output can affect processes further down the line. Manufacturers understand this, of course, and many assume that simply having a connected factory will allow them to minimize their equipment-related issues. But connectivity alone won’t optimize equipment performance. Connected factories require solutions tailored to fit the specific assets they have in place.

With that in mind, manufacturers should look for connectivity tools that combine Internet of Things (IoT) sensors with data analytics to provide insight into equipment conditions across the factory environment. Any good solution should recognize that every factory is different, and what works for one facility may not for the next.

2. Safety and Security

While most connected factory solutions are intended to improve operational efficiency, others address safety and security. Compliance with safety standards and ensuring the protection of valuable property should be top priorities for every manufacturer. Manufacturers should build in safety and security on the front end to save time and money, and to avoid being forced to add it piecemeal down the road.

While digital transformation tools for safety and security can vary, the most effective solutions include video surveillance systems combined with real-time location systems (RTLS). In the event of an emergency on the production line — or if products or assets go missing — such systems provide an instant record of what actually happened and help to direct an effective response.

3. Supply Chain Visibility

The last major challenge manufacturers often face even after bringing their factories online involves poor visibility into their supply chains. Connected factories have the tools they need to ensure that all operations taking place inside their own facilities are optimized, but few also have the capacity to understand the production lines of their various suppliers.

A company producing a part for a car engine, for example, might be asked to provide data to its customers showing exactly what it will have available to move on a specific date in the future. But in order for the company to provide that kind of detail, it needs similar information from its own commodity suppliers. Using tools such as IoT sensors, RFID tags and data analytics software, factories can see more deeply into the supply chain.