Does creating a smart factory require a new-build?

If you’re in the manufacturing sector then the buzz around the ‘smart factory’ is something you’ll have been familiar with for the past few years.

But like so many things technology related, it’s still a hard concept to grasp, particularly as it’s still emerging and because lots of different terms are used interchangeably to describe the same thing.

As well as smart factory, people also use phrases like Industry 4.0, the connected factory, and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to describe places where plant and machinery can improve processes through automation and self-optimisation.

While most will understand this basic premise of the smart factory as somewhere where everything is connected, it might be harder to see quite how your manufacturing or distribution business can take advantage of this new way of working.

Smart factory design

While we are by no means experts in the technology side of this, as architects operating in the manufacturing sector, the smart factory is of great interest to us. In other words, while we don’t design the technology, we design the buildings it sits in and this brings many of its own considerations.

The smart factory concept conjures images of futuristic looking new-builds and gleaming shop floors full of high-tech equipment and robots. Places not unlike Siemans’ state-of-the-art Electronic Works facility in Amberg Germany, widely regarded as leading the world on the implementation of Industry 4.0.

But not all advanced manufacturers are global businesses with the financial clout to invest in facilities of this nature. The reality for most businesses looking to become ‘smart manufacturers’ will be in making incremental changes over time using existing buildings and assets.

In this situation, one of the big questions is how can we help manufacturers adopt smart factory principles without necessarily creating a purpose-built facility from scratch. This may involve the refurbishment and upgrade of existing premises to make way for new plant and machinery, or a significant factory extension within the existing site boundary.

Focusing on the future

If that can’t be done, then manufacturers may need to look at moving to new premises, or even creating a new-build facility on a separate site. In this situation, we can work with manufacturers to help them determine the optimum plan layout, what the building might look like, where it should be located and how much it will cost?

When we work with manufacturers, our team of manufacturing architects seek to gain a deep understanding of the business. We want to know what it’s needs are now, but also what they are in the future and how we can best provide a solution that will bring significant cost and production efficiencies over time.

Whether it’s a new-build factory design, or a refurbishment or extension of an existing manufacturing space, we can advise businesses on the best way forward.

Written by Richard Parker, director, Harrison Pitt Architects

Our team of manufacturing architects specialise in designing buildings for a wide range of sectors, including food manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, warehousing, logistics and commercial offices.

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