Predictions say Smart Manufacturing will be the next Industrial Revolution. What exactly is SM and how do manufacturers get ready for it?
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Every manufacturer would like to believe what their organization is doing is smart, but the concept of Smart Manufacturing (SM) isn’t exactly about individual intelligence. Rather, it’s about the manufacturing industry as a whole and amplifying its productivity, technology and communication along the value chain.
What Exactly Is Smart Manufacturing?
Over the past several years, the topic of Smart Manufacturing (SM) has been a conversation among industry experts, strategists and thought leaders. However, despite its media coverage, many on the front lines of manufacturing aren’t quite sure what SM entails or why it’s even relevant to their organization.
To state it simply, it is the use of real-time data and technology when, where and in the forms that are needed by people and machines.
A more comprehensive definition is provided by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST). They state that SM systems are “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.”
The concept and successful implementation of SM is being predicted to be the next Industrial Revolution. And with many other advances in recent years, it all has to do with technology connectivity and the unprecedented access to, and contextualization of, data.
The Tools That Make SM Work
In the same way there are “microprocessors” that make it possible for smartphones to operate like mini-computers, there’s the “cloud” where an almost-unlimited amount of data can be stored and retrieved.
Also, there are “apps” that can be downloaded to help us keep track of what we spend, track the location of people and devices, track how many steps we’ve walked, etc. SM utilizes all of the same components, addressing the complexities of security, interoperability and intellectual property for manufacturing.
SM will create an open atmosphere where fact-based decisions can be made and decision makers will have the trusted data when it’s needed, where it’s needed and in the most useful form needed. Solving problems will be based on a total picture.
Smart Manufacturing Benefits: What Are They?
This merger of the physical and virtual worlds (cyber physical systems) opens up new areas of innovation that will optimize the entire manufacturing industry to create higher quality products, improve productivity, increase energy efficiency, and sustain safer plant floors. As SM is adopted, new technology based manufacturing jobs will become available, creating direct manufacturing and non-manufacturing positions.
Creating smarter factories will allow the U.S. to remain competitive with companies abroad. New, overseas manufacturing facilities are being constructed with Smart Manufacturing technologies built in.
What Does SM Mean for the Manufacturer?
If you’re a small manufacturing organization, what are your strategies for improving upon your processes? What do you want to accomplish – increase sales, reduce costs, improve efficiency, or have a more agile supply chain? It’s likely that you’ve purchased hardware or software along with a license to use the technology to help you accomplish one or more of your goals. Smart Manufacturing brings small and medium-sized manufacturers the ability to access new and growing forms of business intelligence.
SM offers tools to analyze data and test simulations that can drastically improve their performance, products and designs. It also offers the ability to collaborate with suppliers, both upstream and downstream, more effectively.
The Smart Manufacturing Platform
The concept of a cloud-based open access SM platform allows manufacturers to integrate existing and future plant data, simulations and systems across manufacturing functions. What does this mean?
The cloud is basically a secure network of servers on the internet to store, manage and process systems data and analytics. Why is this important? This eliminates the need for companies to purchase and maintain a large IT infrastructure that requires support.
Today, although many manufacturing processes rely on control contributions by computers, the systems and data on these computers exist in silos with little or no connectivity. The SM platform will allow processes to be integrated to support informed decision-making. In some cases, the integration of currently siloed processes may bring to light hidden inefficiencies and waste.
Companies of all sizes will be able to gain easy, affordable access to run simulations and gain analytical data for their particular needs. Manufacturers will have the newfound ability to shop for applications through marketplaces that cater to their organization’s needs using any device with internet capability.
How Manufacturers Can Prepare
Although the SM platform is still under development, there are things that a manufacturer can do to prepare.
One is to make planned equipment purchases with a view toward SM. There is manufacturing equipment today that offers data gathering and data collection capabilities. Another way to prepare is to confirm capturing of data and its contextualizing information that will be most relevant to answering/addressing your pressing business needs and challenges.
These approaches give companies that have adopted SM a competitive advantage by better enabling fact-based decisions to address challenging issues. In order to be ready for these technological advances, a manufacturer can start taking small steps today to improve their overall production performance by beginning to invest in “low-cost” smart technology that they can use in the future.
Infrastructure Changes: The What, Where & Why
A common misconception about Smart Manufacturing is that it will require organizations to drastically transform their current operations and invest in complex technology. While some change is necessary, of course, SM greatly simplifies this transition by building to the capabilities that manufacturers have currently.
One of the key concepts of Smart Manufacturing is recognizing the value of data as a key asset to be developed and managed. Put another way, for a system that analyzes data, the key asset is not the analytics system itself but the data itself. It’s the data used to build and validate the analysis and the data that are generated. Such an emphasis on data causes us to think differently about where to focus resources.
For any operational objective there needs to be a source of relevant data. The sources of data can be as basic as a tablet or smart phone — or as sophisticated as a wide area sensor network. The point is, data is valuable in the context of the operational objective, not the sophistication of the sensors.
As long as it’s possible to get data to the SM network, the factory can begin their SM journey. Infrastructure changes needed to accommodate the applications that use and act on the data happen within the SM platform — giving manufacturers the convenience of making less drastic changes within their facilities.
The Biggest Change Is in People — Not Technology
A major part in seeing success early has to do with the company culture and the commitment of team members. It’s important to remember that all the integration and use of technology is rendered useless if it is combined with employees who don’t fully understand how it will make their job easier, not harder. And just as crucial as employee support is needed for a successful SM path, it can also serve as the biggest hurdle in SM implementation.
California Manufacturing Technology Consulting (CMTC) is California’s trusted resource for a thriving manufacturing industry and is part of the MEP National Network™, a unique public-private partnership that delivers comprehensive, proven solutions to U.S. manufacturers, fueling growth and advancing U.S. manufacturing.
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