Smart Manufacturing: The Next Industrial Revolution

The world of manufacturing is quickly changing. New information technologies that were first based on energy efficiency and convenience are suddenly offering not only to make the management of manufacturing goods more effective, but the work itself smarter. Manufacturing… is getting smart.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is allowing manufacturers to connect every level of their business. This may have started with lighting, and other basic systems, but it has quickly evolved. Those same initial connected systems are now allowing manufacturers to interface in real time with all the processes used in its business system from start to finish. From suppliers, to the assembly line, and even to delivery, connected manufacturers are tracking their business the entire time. These systems are predicting issues and fixing them before they even occur. The Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition definition states, “Smart Manufacturing is 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.”

 

Some examples of early smart manufacturers are:

Harley-Davidson. HD installed sensors and location awareness in one plant to reduce the time it takes to construct customized motorbikes from 21 days to six hours (Source).

General Electric. At one of GE’s Durathon battery plants, 10,000+ sensors measure temperature, humidity, air pressure and machine operating data in real time. Production is monitored in real time, and processes can be adjusted as needed. Battery performance can even be traced back to batches of powder at every step in the process (Source).

BASF. A pilot smart factory in Germany is producing fully customized shampoos and liquid soaps. A customer can input sample orders which are transmitted over a wireless network. The network assigns radio identification (RFID) tags to empty soap bottles on the assembly line which communicate to production machines what specific soap, fragrance and labeling belongs. Each bottle is completely custom (Source).

 

According Industry Week, some performance outcomes that are expected with smart manufacturing are a reduction in percentage of defect rate, unplanned downtime, annual energy costs, and new product introductions. They also predict an increase in inventory turns.

With so much of our world automated, it is essential to streamline business processes to remain competitive in the continually evolving market. Smart manufacturing is proactive. It is making decisions based on information gathered from IoT analytics in the moment. It means anticipating the needs of the facility and the customer intelligently and if possible, automatically.

Changes are already happening in the way goods are manufactured. As more manufacturers automate their systems, the landscape of the competitive marketplace will transform into something more efficient, more profitable, and above all – smarter.

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