With all the changes in technology over the past 20 years, many buzz words and phrases have arisen. “Smart manufacturing” is one of them, and it’s got a definite “wow” factor, as in, “Smart manufacturing connects people and equipment in ways never before possible.” But what does that really mean? Smart manufacturing is personal for each manufacturer, and can and should correspond to your company’s goals and tactics — for instance, increasing efficiency and quality while decreasing costs. You can make faster decisions thanks to the faster data-gathering, processing and communication made possible by industry 4.0.
Smart manufacturing adds up
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) calls smart manufacturing “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 Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) refers to it as “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.” Another definition refers to it as the use of real-time data and technology when, where and in the forms needed by people and machines. But put in the simplest terms, it is about helping workers perform their jobs better.
However you define it, smart manufacturing encompasses key technologies such as big data processing capabilities, industrial connectivity devices and services, and advanced robotics. It’s also data-driven, meaning operators and business leaders can finally get the right data to the right place at the right time, a concept that has been bandied about for years but couldn’t be implemented till now. In addition, smart manufacturing “democratizes” data, providing more employees with more access to more business data — in the process making those employees more actively engaged in improving their work practices.
Yet a defining feature of smart manufacturing is that data no longer has to be directed to a person — it can go to a machine that will notify a human being only when it’s necessary. In fact, it puts machines in charge of making calculations and decisions that human beings aren’t capable of making. No matter how smart we are, machines can tell us things we don’t know and can’t figure out on our own.
Smart manufacturing makes sense (and cents)
But while the bells and whistles are impressive, they aren’t the reason manufacturers embrace it. They implement it to successfully make a profit, as well as to improve the social and environmental aspects of the so-called triple bottom line. Again, real-time data makes all the difference, making it possible to capitalize on opportunities, decrease costs and increase productivity while getting a better grip on waste, material losses and workforce challenges.
Don’t miss your chance to get a fresh perspective at WESTEC, September 24-26 at the Long Beach Convention and Entertainment Center. The Smart Manufacturing Hub — a dynamic area on the event floor — will feature technical resources and presentations on advanced manufacturing topics, including 3D printing, automation, and inspection and measurement technologies.