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Smart factories are coming to Slovenia

The first proper smart factories should be in operation in the next three to five years. Smart factory projects are beginning to coalesce in Slovenia as well, at Kolektor, Gorenje, Revoz and Domel. 
Fewer people, automated production and the use of big data for decision-making and planning. Several factories in Slovenia already have these features, which are a precondition for the creation of smart factories.

Artificial intelligence the key that unlocks the smart factory 
What are we missing? The answer is provided by Valter Leban, member of the Kolektor Group management board. ‘Machines don’t know how to work like human beings, don’t know how to make decisions, and don’t know how to put or establish data in context. We have to upgrade them with artificial intelligence. When we talk of smart factories, we are talking of a factory that operates autonomously through ‘enabling technologies’. We are talking about the fact that people and things are interconnected and that they have a great mass of data behind them. We are talking about cloud computing, advanced analytics, robotics, 3D printing ... Even though things are interconnected and produce a great quantity of data, they are, in essence, ‘dumb’. If we want things to work autonomously, we have to make them smart. We have to breathe intelligence into them. Artificial intelligence is the summit of the smart factory and the thing that unlocks it.’

In Leban’s opinion, such factories should be up and running in three to five years, most likely in the automotive industry initially. He does point out, however, that smart factories will not work without people, ‘whose basic role will be to create and oversee the factory’. 

Will Kolektor have the first smart factory in Slovenia? ‘We will do everything we can to realise this as quickly as possible,’ replies Leban.

Virtual factory or digital twin
Every smart factory will also have a virtual factory or digital ‘twin’. This will enable a product at the factory to be checked within a virtual world first (i.e. whether it works, where the defects lie, how the product can be improved, etc.).

‘When something has been tested from all aspects, and when we have achieved the best approximation, we can start building physical objects.  When this is done, we have to connect them to an IoT platform in order to obtain feedback from the real world. We cannot learn if we don’t have a comparison or a difference between the ideal and the real state. What we have done with the digital twin is then compared with the real situation. Where there are differences, we try to understand them – first using advanced analytics and then using artificial intelligence and machine learning,’ says Leban.

This should halve the time needed from concept to production.

Turnkey smart factories
Turnkey smart factories are mentioned in the ‘factories of the future’ section of the Strategic Development Innovation Partnership (SRIP). For those who wish to transform their factories into smart factories, a team of experts will be on hand. 

‘We should keep in mind that, these days, it is necessary to build an ecosystem. If we compare that to the past, when we were all more oriented towards our own egos, competed with each other and hid our intellectual property from each other, we have to connect with each other within the smart factory context. I’m not saying that competition and the protection of intellectual property are no longer important, but that interconnection is even more important. Why? Because things are changing so quickly that we have to run fast to keep up. You don’t have enough time or enough resources for development yourself,’ says Leban, who is also coordinator of the Smart Factory vertical in the SRIP.

Author: Polona Movrin