So what is smart manufacturing? The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) says that smart manufacturing is comprised of systems that are “fully-integrated, collaborative systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.” Smart manufacturing is also defined by “the ability to solve existing and future problems via an open infrastructure that allows solutions to be implemented at the speed of business while creating advantaged value.” One of the defining characteristics of smart manufacturing is an amalgam of the tangible and intangible, or the physical and digital. It’s a new way of working in an industry that has relied on time-honored business processes and operations, and it’s driven by several key technology trends.
IoT connectivity among devices and manufacturing equipment yields virtual monitoring of processes, products, and assets—providing business transparency and optimization. Deeper insights into the data regarding manufacturing operations and equipment allow employees to automate processes and foresee possible issues, preventing problems before they occur and therefore maintaining operational efficiency.
Artificial intelligence often goes hand-in-hand with IoT connectivity and, in manufacturing, this is especially true. Data recorded and transmitted by IoT-connected devices and equipment through sensors is analyzed by AI and machine-learning algorithms, making note of inconsistencies and errors which may signify declining assets. AI can also utilize data to determine whether it is advisable to implement a new process or not, allowing employees to glimpse the possible future effects and outcomes.
3D Printing and Augmented Reality
In manufacturing, both augmented reality and 3D printing can play paramount roles. Helmets or glasses enhanced with augmented reality can provide workers with the opportunity to easily visualize and interpret data and information about machinery and processes. This can aid in boosting productivity and improve decision-making, as concrete facts and information are readily available, preventing employees from experiencing inefficiencies due to manually calculating and analyzing. Likewise, 3D printing allows businesses to save costs from full-scale production by printing out parts or other products at a lower volume; this also aids in product testing without significant investments.
In smart factories, technology has the ability to make higher-quality products and improve productivity among employees by reducing the amount of time they spend on routine tasks that are more efficiently conducted by AI, enabled by IoT. Likewise, smart factories and manufacturing can see a boost in energy efficiency, overall safety, and competitiveness when these technologies are implemented. Overall, adding the “smart” component to manufacturing has the capability to produce many benefits for businesses, empowering the factories of the future to thrive in this type of technological transformation.
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