What exactly does it mean? That’s what I asked myself recently when I was at the Automate Show in Chicago. Let’s explore this buzzword.

In a nutshell, it’s a different term for “smart factories,” “Industry 4.0,” “digital enterprise,” etc. — the transformation of a factory to smarter technologies, using automation, robotics etc. for a connected plant. A Factory of the Future may include different equipment brands.

Walking the show floor and talking with many companies in the automation space, it’s no wonder that the meaning of the term keeps changing — just as technology does.

According to ABB, “The Factory of the Future now on the horizon expands and integrates automation, promising an almost totally automated facility.” But are we ready for total automation in our production lines?

Tetra Pak thinks so. It just unveiled its Factory of the Future technology — with human and AI collaboration, where digital revolutionizes how manufacturing plants operate. Machines will be able to communicate with each other as well as with the digital systems of the entire operation, automatically taking on tasks such as diagnosing problems, ordering and delivering parts, and looking for an engineer who is most suitable for the service needed. The technology builds on previous measures to bring the benefits of digitalization to the food and beverage industry, such as the launch of Tetra Pak Plant Secure and condition monitoring.

The processing and packaging company says that the workforce will be able to focus on managing the plant, making quick, informed decisions and continuously increasing the speed of production, reducing errors and minimising product waste.

Bosch Rexroth is another company heavily investing in a Factory of the Future. In Xi’an, China, the company will combine its expertise in the product areas of automation, assembly technology and linear motion technology under one roof to expand its factory automation solutions for customers in Asia.

Rexroth is continuously expanding its portfolio for the Factory of the Future and recently presented new products and technologies at Hannover Messe. In fact, the company has taken its factory on the road: The Factory of the Future Roadshow is a traveling showcase of its industrial automation solutions that increase productivity, safety and energy efficiency on the shop floor.

Another aspect of Factory of the Future is big data — the behind-the-scenes data analytics that make it all work. Check out “Big Results with Big Data.” And, flip to “Label Management,” “Using Social Media Trends to Build Brand Loyalty” and everything else in this issue.