It started on the plant floor – a single smart manufacturing cell – but we are way beyond that now.
The technology finally exists to not only make a corner of the plant floor smart, but to build an entire smart factory and even a smart manufacturing enterprise.
But what is the key to reaping the value smart manufacturing promises?
Following is a quick look inside the smart factory and smart enterprise, a rundown of the benefits of manufacturing intelligence (obvious and not so obvious) and the key to making sure an investment in building the factory of future – or, at least, moving closer to it – pays off.
What does smart manufacturing look like?
A smart factory looks like a single functioning machine, seamlessly coordinating every aspect of manufacturing – resources, departments, functions, equipment, processes.
A smart manufacturing enterprise is exactly the same thing – a single functioning machine – but it includes multiple factories, products and supply chains.
The implications of building a machine like this are extraordinary, and while many of the benefits are obvious, there is also potential value that is not so clear.
The obvious and not so obvious benefits of smart manufacturing.
First, the obvious:
- Improved operational efficiency.
- Increased worker productivity.
- Increased equipment effectiveness.
- Decreased technology costs as a result of converged networks.
- Increased agility and flexibility thanks to real-time information on operations, inventory, supply chains and individual machines.
Now, here’s where it gets really interesting – the not so obvious benefits:
- Less specialization required for workers to perform previously technically intensive analysis and tasks.
- Simultaneous access to control status and network status by a single person, with the ability to problem solve instantly and directly with experts that may be in other areas of the facility and even in a different geographic location.
- Faster issue resolution as a result of instant access and increased visibility, again, even from remote locations.
- Quicker customization of products.
- Speedier product introductions.
- Faster responses to changes in the marketplace and environment.
- Shorter innovation cycles.
- Increased organizational transparency.
- Decreased risk achieved by building more predictability into dynamic systems.
- Greater knowledge sharing.
- Increased employee engagement and retention via access to human-machine interface (HMI) features such as company news blasts and training videos.
Of course, what really makes these benefits exciting is that we’re not talking about incremental improvements. We’re talking about serious leaps – and not just for the individual manufacturer, but for the economy.
And it’s as easy as purchasing new technology, right? Unfortunately, this is where it gets tricky.
The key to making sure the investment pays off.
In a 2013 Industry Week article, Travis Hessman, associate editor specializing in manufacturing technology, wrote:
“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.”
The dense mesh Hessman is referencing is the integration of three manufacturing technologies:
- Product lifecycle management (PLM)
- Manufacturing execution systems (MES)
- Industrial automation
And, the key to creating that dense mesh is figuring out how to connect these three technologies and use them as a complete system.
In other words, the trick is in actually building the single-functioning machine.
Next time: Are You Ready for the Next Step?
Until then, here’s a link to Industry Week’s depiction of The Connected Factory in Action.