In the factory of the future, everything is illuminated.

It is gleaming white -- a shining, interconnected web of information and production. The whole facility hums in quiet efficiency as smart machines collaborate with each other, with a global team of savvy workers, with customers and clients, intelligent analytics and dynamic systems all across the farthest extremes of the supply chain.

The factory of the future -- the smart factory -- is a paradise of efficiency where defect and downtime, waste and waiting are long forgotten issues of a long forgotten age. In it, plant managers and CIOs scheme together in a seamless blend of data and production, of IT and manufacturing, to illuminate every turn of every machine, every cut of every blade, every move of every piece in its global dance to delivery.

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That future factory represents the absolute pinnacle of technological and manufacturing development, a perfect integration of high-tech tools and high-tech workers that shines in stark contrast to the dark and dirty image of manufacturing in centuries past.

It’s a nice dream, that future. And it is a dream that, however fantastic, is much closer to reality than you think.

Siemens Electronic Works

The Siemens (IW 1000/34) Electronic Works facility in Amberg, Germany, is a plant straight out of that dream. The immaculate, 108,000-square-foot high-tech facility vibrates with efficient, digital wonder as its smart machines coordinate the production and global distribution of the company’s Simatic control devices -- a custom, built-to-order process involving more than 1.6 billion components for over 50,000 annual product variations, for which Siemens sources about 10,000 materials from 250 suppliers to make the plant’s 950 different products.

The endless variables and impossibly complex supply chain maze this production process requires far exceed the capabilities of a traditional factory. Just like organizing its material flow, sequencing its processes or even just intelligently scheduling its 1,100 employees to meet the requirements of an ever-changing job is beyond the capabilities of any single technology or any single tool.

And yet, according to a Gartner Industry Research study conducted on the plant in 2010, the Amberg factory only records about 15 defects per million and enjoys a 99% reliability rate and 100% traceability on its expansive lines.

The key to making this magic work, and the trick to making all future smart factories work, is creating a dense mesh of technologies that are integrated and cooperating into a smarter, more efficient whole.