What Is Smart Manufacturing, Exactly?

What YOU Should Know About Smart Manufacturing. #1 In A Series.

It’s certainly not a new sentiment, but it may be truer today than ever…if you aren’t moving forward, you’re falling behind. The hyper-competitive business landscape has made pressure a 24/7 companion for manufacturing companies caught in a never-ending battle to cut costs and increase productivity in order to win and retain demanding customers.

Many companies today are able to accomplish these objectives by adopting the operational principles of an emerging industry trend called “smart manufacturing.”  While “smart” certainly applies to companies who are successfully implementing the concept, the term really refers to an advanced integration of refined software and machines on the factory floor that can “talk to each other” in order to enhance many aspects of the manufacturing process.

This post is the first in a series on smart manufacturing. More on that later, but let’s start with what the term really involves.

Teaching Machines to Do Smart Things

Think of a standard production line. Each machine in the sequence is “doing its thing” while human monitors periodically check production, look for problems, and make adjustments as they appear necessary. Efficiency is pretty good; production problems do occur, and some materials are wasted and output slowed until the problem is noticed and corrective measures are taken.

Now, look at the same line with some updated machinery, sensors imbedded at many positions along the line to collect and analyze data, and integrated software managing every aspect of the production process.  This integration enables the machines to communicate with one another and with other process components, from ensuring proper material provision from the supply chain to making “on the fly” adjustments throughout production to help minimize waste and maximize throughput.

Benefits For The Company and The Industry

Naturally, a production line that is empowered to “fix itself” when a problem arises is a big plus: fewer raw materials are wasted in unsaleable products, human error is removed from the equation, and a more consistent and reliable workflow results.

From a broader perspective, smart manufacturing can have a positive impact on manufacturing jobs. While the increased “automation” of the process doesn’t suggest more workers on the factory floor, it does signal an increasing need for the advanced technical jobs of writing computer software programs, data analysis, programming and controls people and many others involved in managing the implementation of these systems. And these are well-paid, sustainable positions.

The tighter “real time” focus of smart manufacturing can also lead to a safer environment. With most decisions made by the machines themselves, the level of interaction between humans and those machines is reduced. A more predictable and consistent workflow can minimize situations in which injuries can occur.

Smart Can Be Scarey

There certainly are concerns accompanying the growing acceptance of smart manufacturing.  Many businesses are cautious because the changes required to implement the system may be well out of their comfort zone.

Capital investment is frequently an issue, as well. While some machinery can be retrofit to deliver most of the benefits, other machines must be replaced with newer technology. Software development is also costly. The decision by many companies to pass on smart technology, or to implement it in a limited way is frequently based on the initial expense in doing so.

Let’s Talk More About Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing is an important development, and every business owner and executive should be aware of its implications. In my next few posts, I will be sharing more information about several factors related to this important business trend, including:

Smart Manufacturing and Your Bottom Line

How many companies are embracing it either fully or on a more limited or “experimental” basis, and what can those who don’t expect? And how difficult is it to justify the initial investment based on projected payback in productivity?

Smart Manufacturing and IoT

The Internet of Things has been widely discussed. How much of a part does it play in smart manufacturing?

Security in Smart Manufacturing

With the blizzard of data and other information collected in smart manufacturing, how much of a concern is security? Can competitors access this data and somehow use it against you? Is such a self-managing system vulnerable to outside interference? Is it really wise to minimize human monitoring to this degree?

Are You Ready?

I’m looking forward to digging into the subject more deeply, and reporting what I’ve found. As I’ve recently mentioned, here at Superior Business Solutions we use some fairly advanced technologies in meeting our clients’ needs, and I think that will only increase in the future.

We certainly plan to be ready, and I’m committed to helping you do the same. If you have some thoughts on the topic now, or as we go through this series, just give me a call.  One thing is undeniably true: we all get smarter when we share information with one another.

Read Part 2: Smart Manufacturing and YOUR Bottom Line

Read Part 3: IoT Provides the Fuel for Smart Manufacturing

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