Ever visited Venice?

Depending on your mood it can be either one of the world’s most beautiful and romantic cities or a crowded, tourist-ridden mess where gondoliers will take you for a ride in every sense of the word. If you get the chance to visit and you’ve had your fill of the Piazza San Marco, the Grand Canal, and you’ve already overpaid for your requisite carnival mask, take a few moments and explore the Venetian Arsenal in the city’s Castello district.

The Arsenal stands as Europe’s first industrial scale factory. At its peak the Arsenal could turn out a new ship every single day, all the parts constructed by an army of 16,000 workers and assembled on site. It was the first factory to employ a production line in Europe and represented the largest industrial complex on the continent hundreds of years before the Industrial Revolution. Competitors to the Arsenal could take months to produce even one ship making the Arsenal a significant contributor to Venice’s security, wealth, and naval power through the sixteenth century. Per historians, Galileo himself was even employed to help make the Venetian Arsenal the most efficient production line in history, a position it would hold until Henry Ford debuted the modern vehicle assembly line centuries later.

Modern factories still bear some resemblance to Venice’s boat-building powerhouse. There are still workers to be managed, though many of those workers have been replaced by machines and, increasingly, by robots. The factory still exists to turn a basic material or group of materials into something of value, and there remains a search for efficiency and optimized processes, too.

The modern factory, however, can no longer call on Galileo as the Arsenal did. Instead, a modern factory is increasingly turning to big data and the internet of things.

Four Types of Factory

Last year Tanguy Mathon published an article on the connected factory on the Smart Energies Expo site. In it he introduced four types of factory:

  • the blind factory which doesn’t collect data about its operations and relies on human intuition and experienced operators to achieve efficiencies;
  • the visual factory which gathers a lot of data about its operations but lacks the analytics tools required to draw out efficiencies from that data;
  • the big data factory which gathers all that data and has the tools to analyze the data so as to achieve optimal operational efficiency in isolation; and,
  • the factory of the future which takes the big data factory to the next level by connecting it with other big data factories in the network, with supplier networks, and with customers, too.

Now there’s little doubt that the big data factory and the factory of the future are a big step ahead of the blind factory, and even the modern blind factory is a level beyond what the Venetian Arsenal could have managed even with Galileo’s help. But on the other hand, there is probably a sixth factory that we can call the systemic factory that will be even better than the big data factory or the factory of the future to achieve the optimal efficiencies that both are seeking, and for a few very basic reasons.

Firstly, having a lot of data and using correlations in that data to drive decisions won’t help you manage events that have never happened before. The data you gather only reflects things that have already happened so, when that once in a lifetime event occurs and shakes the factory to its floor, the best big data sets will have been unable to see it coming.

Secondly, even if we allow that the big data factory is perfectly optimized and the other systems it connects to as a factory of the future are also perfectly optimized, there is no guarantee that the entire system is optimized. Indeed, optimizing all the parts of a complex network of factories, suppliers, and customers is unlikely to lead to an overall optimized system; instead it will almost always lead to a suboptimal outcome.

Third, the factory of the future can only hope to optimize the systems it gathers data about. Where there is no data there is a blind spot for the factory owner, and in a complex industrial environment these blind spots can and do cost companies millions in inefficient processes, unforeseen disruptions, and lost earnings.

Luckily, there’s a better way.

A Better Factory

Imagine a factory that was considered a system in and of itself: it has components, these components are interrelated, and a change in one part of the system affects other components in the system. The factory itself is part of a wider system of suppliers, customers, shipping companies, and government regulations – and again, a change in any one of these systems could have an effect elsewhere, including inside the factory itself. Today we can model these ‘systems of systems’, identify the interconnections and couplings between the systems and the components of those systems, and then simulate the future state of the system. We can even set targets and performance indicators for different parts of the systems and determine an optimal strategy for achieving these targets.

By modeling and simulating the complexity of a connected factory we can identify ways to make it more efficient and for it to operate in an optimal fashion that Galileo himself could only ever have dreamed of.

And the best part? You can find a factory like that without fighting your way through the pigeons on the Piazza or worrying about the afternoon tide getting your new shoes all wet by visiting Cosmo Tech today.

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