Fueling The Next Intelligent Factory

Christian Boos

In the smart factory of the future, you won’t have to look for the part, component, or pallet you want. It will find you – wherever in the factory or on the planet you happen to be. And it will do it within milliseconds.

Welcome to real-time localization with global track and trace. Now you can watch manufacturing objects across your entire global supply chain. It is the advent of a hyper-intelligent, hyper-fluid factory. And it promises to provide intelligent asset management to the entire enterprise in unexpected and sophisticated ways.

The revolution is made possible by a new generation of innovative startups. SAP startup partner INTRANAV, for example, has developed technology that can track and trace assets as they move through the supply chain. Using a sophisticated mix of sensors and access points, any object can be tracked across an entire factory with an accuracy of 10 cm.

Based on broadband technology, the real-time locating system (RTLS) monitors assets in motion – from materials and finished products to the very robots moving them through the warehouse. It’s transforming yesterday’s factory into a responsive, sentient ecosystem. And it’s unleashing a revolution on the factory floor in the following ways.

1. Barcode scanning

In the not-so-distant past, manufacturers relied almost exclusively on barcode scanning to verify manufacturing process steps. Was the engine part assembly configured correctly? Did the pallet of fan belts arrive in Hall A? At each stage of production, a worker had to scan an object’s barcode to update the system.

It’s a workable solution, to be sure. Yet it demands an extraordinary amount of time from engineers and production managers. RTLS systems can track and trace the completion of each production step using little more than sensors and access points. This, in turn, allows manufacturers to refocus highly skilled employees on more valuable tasks.

2. Automated guided vehicles (AGVs)

As the forklift drivers of the future, AGVs are intelligent mobile robots. They follow markers or wires to move materials around a manufacturing facility or a warehouse. Under normal circumstances, an AGV knows what it wants and where to find it. The AGV can figure out, for example, that it has to pick up the next batch of car electronics on pallet number 3198 in Rack 3, Bay 4 on the second tier.

But what if pallet 3198 was mistakenly stored on Rack 20? In the past, it would have meant hours of lost time searching for the misplaced components – and a potential assembly line shutdown. With track and trace, robots are kept up to date in real time. They know exactly where to go and, more importantly, where not to go. Production flows. Assets move. Calm is restored.

3. Temperature monitoring

Some like it hot. Some like it cold. Which is why many assets – from wine to hybrid electric vehicle (HEV) batteries – must be stored at precise temperatures. By using sophisticated sensors, RTLS can communicate an object’s temperature. If an asset gets too hot or too cold, the system immediately alerts supply chain managers. They can then respond at any end-to-end point along the supply chain – from production facility to warehouse to retailer.

Coming to an ERP near you

For companies with large ERP and warehouse management landscapes, there is good news. In fact, track and trace technology is quickly being integrated into a number of enterprise software platforms. And that makes it a powerful tool for driving decisions, optimizing logistics, and putting completely new capabilities into motion.

How can you achieve your business goals with SAP S/4HANA? Find out more about the Next-Generation of SAP Business Scenario Recommendations for SAP S/4HANA in our upcoming webinar session on April 27, 2020. Sign up today

Christian Boos

About Christian Boos

Christian Boos is Vice President, SAP Startup Engagement for S/4HANA and Digital Supply Chain, at SAP. Christian and his team, working closely with the SAP.iO, engage with the most promising startups to expand the value of SAP’s S/4HANA portfolio for customers. They foster business-driven innovation and ensure startup solution integration succeeds by accelerating startup solutions within SAP’s open innovation ecosystem.