The Rise of the Smart Factory: How IoT is Reshaping Manufacturing

From artificial intelligence to predictive maintenance to collaborative robotics, or co-bots, IoT solutions are having an impact in manufacturing, improving operational efficiency. Tech Data’s IoT expert Eric Thompson describes how smart factories are tapping into automation, learning how to merge the data silos of OT and IT, and re-imagining operations in a world changed by this pandemic.  


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In manufacturing, unforeseen equipment failure, high maintenance costs, and a lack of data integration due to disparate technologies and systems can all be detrimental to operational efficiency. During the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturers also have a new set of challenges, including implementing new safety protocols such as temperature checks and social distancing to keep the factory workforce safe.

Fortunately, analytics and IoT solutions that offer centralized monitoring, predictive maintenance, and connected logistics can help combat these challenges. A cloud-connected, data-driven smart factory relies on machine automation, using IoT solutions that can deliver insights in everything from energy consumption on the factory floor to robotic maintenance alerts to supply chain intelligence.

Cameras and machine vision can help manufacturers spot defects before products leave the line. Sensors can collect data that can predict failures of critical machinery and issue real-time alerts that maintenance needs to happen proactively. Digital twin initiatives help product designers and engineers run simulations before any products are built. And RFID tags can help workers stay safe and maintain a healthy social distance while on the job. 

The Industry 4.0 Opportunity for SIs

These improvements in manufacturing automation are significant, and are ushering in a fourth industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0. Intel predicts that the transformative opportunities and market potential of Industry 4.0 are expected to create up to $3.7 trillion in value within global manufacturing. 

Solution integrators (SIs) who know how to use technology to leverage the power of data with process automation can help manufacturers build smarter, efficient, and even resilient factories. And in a COVID-19 world, the new smart factory will be the one most likely to survive, as it can more quickly adapt output levels and pivot its operations.

Where IT Meets OT

To find out more about the current state of Industry 4.0 automation and the impact of the pandemic, the IoT Integrator editors talked with Eric Thompson, Senior Consultant, IoT, Specialized Solution Practice, at Tech Data Corporation. 

In our podcast, Thompson shares some key insights on what constitutes a smart factory, looking at everything from robotics to M2M protocols to digital twin technology. He describes how an older factory can transform to smarter technology, including where solution integrators can most easily jumpstart IoT pilots and projects. (Hint: Start with monitoring the basics such as machine temperature, which can predict failure “before the smoke appears” and help reduce factory downtime.)

Thompson also answers a very important question that is top of mind to all SIs and companies in manufacturing tech: is the marriage of IT and OT a functional or dysfunctional relationship?  


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