What is a Smart Factory?

The buzz around ‘smart factories’ has been around for a while now, but how do you go about actually creating one? Here we explore what a Smart Factory is and how it can become a reality.

Basically, a Smart Factory is a facility where machinery and systems are linked together by modular devices. These devices then allow industrial equipment to learn and adapt their processes, thereby creating a Smart Factory.

This development is in part due to the rise of ‘Big Data’, which is complex information that traditional data-processing applications are unable to manage effectively. It’s the application of this data, which is generated through the device communication mentioned above, which enables benefits such as predictive maintenance, flexible production and energy measurement.

Smart factories use industrial internet and the cloud to connect the real and virtual worlds, resulting in seamless integration of cyber physical systems at all levels, allowing the whole production process to be monitored.

The key to a successful Smart Factory is the interaction at field level. With a unified language, there is communication between machines, enabling full integration across the whole factory. This communication functionality doesn’t need to be built into the machine. Instead, flexible modular devices can be added to capture, process and transfer data throughout all levels of the factory.

Device connectivity solutions, including RJ45 and M12 connectors, enable this communication to flow freely through machines and be recorded.

Another aspect of the move towards smart factories is the requirement for more computer power across more locations and in ever-smaller spaces. Components are now required to deliver maximum performance in a minimum of space, driving the demand for compact, lighter product solutions. What’s more, these modular components can be easily disconnected and reconnected, allowing future-proofing upgrades and extensions to be completed quickly and with minimum disruption to production schedules.

How do you make the Smart Factory become a reality?

There are four key elements that enable industry 4.0 to be implemented, making the smart factory a realiy.

  • Modularisation for the smart factory

Modularisation is one of the key elements to make smart factory a reality by enabling industry 4.0. This is because it enables a production plant to achieve previously unattainable levels of flexibility in production. This enables each section of the factory to be individually assessed and maintained, giving the flexibility to alter individual production modules without disrupting other processes.

How to implement modularisation for the smart factory

The Han-Modular® enables you to implement modularisation because you can combine multiple connector inserts in a single connector housing. This means that power, signals and data can be combined flexibly in one connector space whilst performing more efficiently.

Modularity brings flexibility in automating production lines. It provides key benefits to processors and allows machine and control equipment manufacturers to provide operating features that support the smart factory philosophy. Integrated connecterisation forms a key constituent part of the solution to this approach.

  • Miniaturisation for the smart factory

A key theme of the smart factory is miniaturisation, especially in connectivity. Saving space whilst being able to provide the same amount of power, signal and data is crucial. HARTING strives to provide solutions so the smart factory can be achieved.

How to implement miniaturisation for the smart factory

HARTING ix Industrial®

The HARTING ix Industrial® is set to replace the RJ45 as the industry standard for 1/10 Gbit/s high speed data transfer, combining compactness (approximately 70% area saving on the circuit board) with robust mating for harsh industrial applications. Providing a standardised interface according to IEC/PAS 61076-3 security as well as providing the correct point for future applications in the smart factory.

Single Pair Ethernet (SPE): A game changing conduit for smart factory right at the field level

Our Single Pair Ethernet solution, the HARTING T1 industrial has the potential to redefine the well-known automation pyramid by enabling users to take data from field level sensor devices directly up into the cloud if required. Because of this, devices can communicate via their IP address enabling easy access to a web browser. This solution is another key accelerator for IIoT, industry 4.0 by accommodating real time communication with time-sensitive networking (TSN).

Single Pair Ethernet enables implementation of miniaturisation due to it's compact design, meaning it can easily be incorporated into smaller devices and it also allows a significantly higher packing density. This industrial ethernet connector combines power supply and data transmission in one interface which reduces the area taken up by connectors.

  • Digitalisation for the smart factory

One of the main principles of the smart factory is the ability to take an individual process and critical performance data from factory machines and import it into the cloud, meaning the workflow, upkeep and management of each machine and series of machines can easily be done remotely via web browser address. It is important to note that data security can be maintained and that not all data is transmitted, which would otherwise result in high cloud storage costs.

To understand how this works, you need to understand two concepts:

Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is hosted on the internet and allows for remote access to apps, services and stored data.

Internet of Things (IoT)

The internet of things builds on the cloud computing by using the cloud to store and automate processes in objects that are synced to the internet. This is why we have come to call it "Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Outside of factories, these "things" are called Cyber-Physical Systems (CPS); physical objects with embedded software and computing power.

How to implement digitalisation for the smart factory

Implementing digitalisation for the smart factory can be achieved by integrating additional intelligence directly in the interface connectivity components that connect field devices to production machinery.

The HARTING "smart" Han-Modular® ID connector module enables the smart factory to be a reality as it provides machinery production process improvements. The new CAN ID module is the latest product in the smart Han® series. Implementation as a Han-Modular® module ensures that identification is flexibly integrated into interfaces which comprehensively supply machines with power, data and signals in the most optimum space-saving manner possible.

    Process improvements needed to implement digitalisation for the smart factory can be achieved at the local factory shop floor level without necessitating the use of the cloud, according to the process stages defined below:

    • Collect key operational data
    • Analyse and process data in real-time from existing or retrofitted sensors without the internet, reducing cloud communications cost and providing better data leak prevention
    • Exactly only the key performance data, to enable potential improved control over a specific machine or equipment functionality
    • Multiply this knowledge where appropriate over similar equipment located in different cells and securely integrate this into the main plant MES / ERP network for further improvement to production processes.
    • Implementing customisation for the smart factory

    Industrial production is becoming more flexible and more intelligent. It is, therefore, important that individual production requirements are met, as customised solutions solve problems that standardised products cannot. Customisation is a key part in creating an integrated industry environment because the systems can be tailored to specific requirements; to provide an increased level of power, for example. These bespoke components help to create a smart factory which manufactures more efficiently.

    How to implement customisation for the smart factory

    HARTING has the capability to build customised cables for unique requirements. Based in Northampton, HARTING manufacturing has the following certifications:

    • Quality - ISO 9001: 2015, ISO / TS 22163 (IRIS Silver Quality Performance level), RISQS.
    • Environment - ISO 14001: 2015
    • UL: ZPFW2 / ZPFW8 Wiring Harnesses.


    HARTING manufacturing have experience of supplying both UL and CE marked cable assemblies to meet the most demanding of customer requirements. Here's how HARTING manufacturing can support with enabling the smart factory through customisation:

    Reduce installation times

    Extensive plants and facilities using modular or mobile system are increasingly relying on decentralised drive technology. Just as with new distribution centres, the aim is fast and simple commissioning. Modular cabling concepts for connecting devices and their supply with power, data and signals are an ideal complement. Operating in this highly individualised market, HARTING is working with clients to supply customisable products.

    A perfect match

    HARTING offers the optimum connection technology, not only in terms of connectors. To further minimise the installation input and effort, we go one step further. Prefabricated cables, made according to customer requirements, are optimally adapted to the modular conveyor systems and the ambient conditions, considerably simplifying production, testing and commissioning. In this context, it does not matter which devices or drive manufacturers are opted for, as long as the correct connectors are matched and cable lengths fitted. Rapid, uncomplicated and safe.

    Power and motor connection assemblies

    In the field of power supply and distribution, the Han-Compact® connector ranks virtually as a standard. It works as both an EMC variant with metal housings and shielded cables as well as a robust plastic version. Regarding motor cabling, Han® connectors in various series and different conductor cross-sections can be used, depending on the application. The use of pre-assembled cables enables manufacturers of modular conveyor systems to not only perform the complete mechanical construction, but also the electrical testing prior to field commissioning.

    Data and signal configurations: M8 and M12 cables-sensors and actuators

    Users can also access a broad portfolio of pre-assembled cabling for circular connectors. Various codings and configurations are available in the sensor and actuator areas.

    Fit for the future

    HARTING is catering to the modularisation and individualisation trends by providing pre-assembled cables to customer specifications. For decision makers shaping the future of industry, installation and commissioning times are part and parcel of a fast go-to-market approach.

    Download our FREE guide to Industry 4.0 and the IIoT

    Learn more about the key themes and benefits of Industry 4.0 and the IIoT, including cost savings, improved efficiencies and access to production data.