The Future of Factories: Different Trends


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The technological advancements promote the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, where key terms are efficiency, innovation, and enterprises' digitalization. Market globalization, product mass customization, and more complex products need to reflect on changing the actual design methods and developing business processes and methodologies that have to be data-driven, AI-assisted, smart, and service-oriented. Therefore, there is a great interest in experimenting with emerging technologies and evaluating how they impact the actual business processes. This paper reports a comparison among the major trends in the digitalization of a Factory of the Future, in conjunction with the two major strategic programs of Industry 4.0 and China 2025. We have focused on these two programs because we have had experience with them in the context of the FIRST H2020 project. European industrialists identify the radical change in the traditional manufacturing production process as the rise of Industry 4.0. Conversely, China mainland launched its strategic plan in China 2025 to promote smart manufacturing to digitalize traditional manufacturing processes. The main contribution of this review paper is to report about a study, conducted and part of the aforementioned FIRST project, which aimed to investigate major trends in applying for both programs in terms of technologies and their applications for the factory's digitalization. In particular, our analysis consists of the comparison between Digital Factory, Virtual Factory, Smart Manufacturing, and Cloud Manufacturing. We analyzed their essential characteristics, the operational boundaries, the employed technologies, and the interoperability offered at each factory level for each paradigm. Based on this analysis, we report the building blocks in terms of essential technologies required to develop the next generation of a factory of the future, as well as some of the interoperability challenges at a different scale, for enabling inter-factories communications between heterogeneous entities.
digital factory, virtual factory, cloud manufacturing, Industry 4.0, China 2025
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