Today’s factories are undergoing a transformation. What we call “smart factories” are utilizing much more than automation and robots. These types of factories rely on disruptive technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), which have transformed manufacturing for the modern industrial revolution. IoT data gives smart manufacturers the chance to gain process insight and prescriptive analytics. Due to these benefits and more, it’s time for factories to enter the age of Industry 4.0, where they can leverage digital tools for productivity and profitability.
Smart manufacturing makes a factory “smart,” but what is it and how exactly does it become integrated into already-existing production processes? According to Market Research.com, smart manufacturing involves a combination of various technologies and solutions that can be implemented into a manufacturing ecosystem. These technologies and solutions are termed “enablers” and help optimize the entire manufacturing process, thereby increasing overall profits. These technologies include artificial intelligence, blockchain, industrial IoT, robotics, cybersecurity, and condition monitoring. With enablers comes a large amount of data – both generated and accepted – and data analysis helps make the production process more efficient, flexible, and transparent.
Smart manufacturing is notable in that it allows us to collect a large amount of data and use those insights to drive decision-making. With this implementation comes challenges, however, as cybersecurity becomes a rising issue. Therefore, data security becomes one of the most important challenge for those running smart factories to consider.
Thanks to the internet, big data, analytics and the cloud, company decision makers can obtain information via their tablets or smartphones. Further, the data does not need to be directed to a person to process it, but to a machine that is learning as things are happening, can receive this data and interpret it, and notify a person with alerts only when necessary. This helps to eliminate hierarchical structures and allow executives developing smart manufacturing strategies to redesign processes and workflows so smart machines can complete work that they do best while operators can complete higher-value work only humans can do. Forbes recommends factories start implementing smart manufacturing process via smart automated-guided vehicles to transport material and by automating quality inspection.
Stakeholders of smart manufacturing can be characterized typically in three types of companies, broadly called “product and control solution providers,” “connectivity solution providers,” and “IT solution providers or enablers:”
These types of providers include all the companies involved in the development of automation services and products. Some examples include Rockwell, Siemens, and Emerson.
This term refers to telecom service providers, which allow for the smooth flow of data for asset management. Companies like HP, Microsoft, and SAS are all examples of connectivity solution providers.
These enablers facilitate the entire concept of the Industrial Internet of Things and asset management. They assist in building control, monitoring, and analytics infrastructure, as seen in examples like Cisco and AT&T.
In order to gain the benefits from smart manufacturing, you need to get specific. And often, conversations about what smart manufacturing can do – including claims that it can connect billions of machines and people – are too abstract to understand.
So what is smart manufacturing? It can be characterized as…
Businesses that are labeled “flat” are referring to eliminating the layers of management between the bottom and top of the organizational pyramid. When it comes to the factory, the term “flat” designates the manufacturing technology stack that links and helps control the production process, from the plant floor to business planning and logistics. Smart manufacturing levels these hierarchies by giving people more access to business data, which typically would have been accessed through the slow-moving process of information moving up and decisions being handed down through the hierarchy. In order to plan a smart business strategy, executives should look for ways to “democratize” data. For instance, smart technologies can be used to eliminate reports and meetings where decisions are typically made. Instead, the necessary data can be made available via dashboards to those who need it to make decisions. An example of this movement arises in early adopters who provided plant floor operators with specific machine and production-quality data while delivering executives factory-level data with exception alerts.
The bottom line of sustainability in business means the ongoing economic, social and environmental viability of the company. Smart manufacturing accomplishes all three aspects together by providing the real-time data companies need to keep costs down, capture opportunities, and productivity while understanding more clearly waste and material losses, as well as keeping a close eye on workforce challenges. With smart manufacturing, companies can gather the data necessary to address topics of social responsibility like work practices and customer demands for fair trade. Through smart manufacturing, traceability is enacted in the supply chain, which supplies the knowledge needed to prove suppliers are operating in a sustainable, fair way.
Faster decision making is a result of quicker data gathering, processing and communication made possible by smart manufacturing. Changes in the marketplace can be responded to quickly due in part to the fact that opportunities and problems can be identified early and dealt with quickly. One example of this is the ability to monitor and feed sales and social media data into executive decision making dashboards, so quick decreases or increases in demand can be met with changes to marketing or production campaigns.
Smart manufacturing allows people to do their jobs better. Forbes provides the example of providing factory operators with machine interfaces that deliver quality data and production, allowing them to act in real time to address quality variances or slowdowns. Delivering information about a hiccup in a critical supply chain enables procurement executives to quickly find alternative sourcing.
Research by the MPI Group detected that 69 percent of manufacturers attribute their use of IoT technologies for increasing profitability. Document management, packaging, warehousing, and shipping/logistic/transportation were cited as the top processes representing the best opportunities to leverage IoT.
Once everyone in your business is provided with access to the data needed to solve their own problems, they feel empowered to use it, thus changing their mindset. Rather than simply doing what they’re told, employees work toward continuously improving work practices to drive value and eliminate waste.
Forbes states that smart manufacturing is current in two ways. The first way is due to the fact that smart manufacturing strategy is possible right now. New technology isn’t in the works to make smart manufacturing possible in the future – it’s readily available currently, allowing businesses to disrupt the way they presently work. The second way involves the fact that smart manufacturing is adaptive, responsive, and event-driven sincedata is available and decisions are made in real time.
To move forward in your smart manufacturing journey, pay attention to the above attributes. By understanding how these aspects relate to achieving a specific business goal, companies can make informed decisions about how to deploy the many technologies available to them.
Simply installing an industrial internet of things platform is not enough to harness the power of smart manufacturing – you must understand how to utilize these technologies as well.
When utilized efficiently, the following benefits of smart manufacturing can be captured:
If you’re sticking to the old way of doing things, chances are your technology and bureaucratic processes are not getting the job done. Rather, you need to have processes that are predictable, repeatable, or reliable. But, it can be intimidating to try to create new processes and capabilities. And in order to capitalize on new technology, businesses need to open themselves up to new processes and capabilities. To create these actions, first evaluate concepts such as personalizing and customizing your products and adding them to data and services. Forbes then recommends focusing on providing solutions and problem-solving for your customers, instead of merely providing services and products. The business strategy should then be expanded to focus on new capabilities, then letting those capabilities drive new technology. Remember, as you consider this new approach to smart manufacturing, your competition will be as well. Make sure new projects are aligned with your new business strategy.
Reducing costs has long been business’ objectives, yet it’s becoming more difficult to reduce ongoing operating costs or even measure them. To decrease costs, both top-down and bottom-up approaches are worth looking into. For instance, asset performance can be something that could generate revenue. Instead of buying new equipment, vet your current production lines, seeing where you can alter processes to take care of waste, rework and energy. Then, measure yields and efficiencies. Cut processes and for those you can’t eliminate, add standardization. Finally, ensure that architecture and solutions are flexible enough to support multiple manufacturing products, processes, and plants. Find ways to collect less data by zeroing in on the data that’s relevant and used to make key decisions. Again, focus on waste, rework, repetitive jobs, energy usage, and other areas of cost.
Culture change can be difficult when it comes to decision-making and teams. The first challenge involves convincing people. Again, technology isn’t the issue here. Obtaining skilled resources has consistently been a challenge, and with the aging workforce, that challenge is increasing each day. New processes, business models, and capabilities tend to put stress on an organization, who may face opposition as the disruption causes changes to people’s jobs, which they are likely to resist at first. In order to put agency back into your employees’ hands, get people invested and involved in the process. Focus on retraining and realigning your workforce. Award your employees with incentives for deep process knowledge and versatility. Check your business model and review collaboration methods within your company, your suppliers, and customers. No matter what you do, ensure you’re empowering your teams and improving decision-making by having a top-down alignment of your processes and people. Provide everyone access to the right data at the correct time in real time. Co-create with your partners to solve problems together and partner with your customers by helping them solve their problems. Technology should be used to share and produce information to bring people closer to one another. Invest in your people and constantly make your data available. Through these processes, your customers, your people, and your suppliers can all do a better job.
Now that we live in a digital age, customers are more apt to post online when they have a great customer support experience and even more likely to spread the word when they have a negative one. And the companies that recognize this phenomena will thrive in the new world of business. That’s why changing business models is so crucial; it signals both changes within your company, your suppliers, and your customers. While these changes are widely a good thing, creating better ways of doing business poses a great challenge for many organizations. The best way to begin is to start small and then build on those processes. Technology is exciting, yet it must be usable and practical, as the business model needs to be strong enough to support it. To start making new and better ways of doing business, start simplifying processes and decision-making. Focus on a new business model, then create a step-by-step road map to get there. No matter what pushback you might face, keep going no matter what.
Smart manufacturing is here to stay and if you haven’t already, it’s time for your business to get on board. And by now, you know technology is a tool that will help you get your business to where you want it to be. After all, emerging technology reduces capital costs, provides new capabilities and processes, improves decision-making, empowers teams, and creates new and better ways of doing business. However, remember to stay focused on your ROI when leveraging new technology and how you’re going to take full advantage of its benefits.
Manufacturers face a multitude of balancing acts: produce more while spending less, create customized products but use standard processes, and reduce technology debt while reducing time to market. Finding this balance is challenging.
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