What Makes Smart Manufacturing Achievable?

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Estimated read time: Six minutes

Even if you’ve never heard of it, smart manufacturing just sounds like the kind of thing you want to be part of. Take a closer look and you’ll start to realize that first impression was exactly right: Smart manufacturing is a big deal, and as the manufacturing industry gets more sophisticated, this approach is becoming even more important.

Of course, it’s one thing to be interested, but being invested is something else entirely. For that, you’ll need to know a little more about smart manufacturing — like what puts this approach within reach.

Here’s what makes smart manufacturing achievable and how you can put these solutions to work in your manufacturing company.

Is smart manufacturing in your future?

A smart factory is just what it says on the tin: smart. It’s smooth, efficient and disruption-proof, powered by digitized solutions, machine learning, data analytics, augmented reality and intelligent automation that make advanced manufacturing tasks easier for teams on the factory floor.

Here are a few dreams that can be made real with smart manufacturing:

Visibility

To keep your plant running smoothly, you need to have a complete, comprehensive view of anything that could stand in the way of operational efficiency. Smart manufacturing makes this possible by identifying disruptions and downtime that may have nothing to do with equipment — which is critical since our research suggests that more than 65% of manufacturing processes aren’t directly machine-related.

Accuracy

Smart manufacturing adoption provides the insights you need to make quick, accurate decisions. For example, by identifying abnormalities in asset performance and flagging possible problems, and having the data to prioritize which ones to solve first, smart manufacturing allows you to optimize process control and maintenance tasks and respond in the right way every time. 

Quality

By identifying best practices based on your own data and allowing you to standardize those processes across your plant, digital manufacturing helps you become the best version of yourself. It also works to optimize your manufacturing ecosystem by automating manual tasks, performing each manufacturing process with precision and consistency, ultimately improving and sustaining quality.

So if all these benefits can be yours just by implementing smart manufacturing technologies, why hasn’t this future been realized? The truth is that a true digital transformation — the modern “industrial revolution,” if you will — requires three key things in order to succeed. If you don’t have a solid plan for these elements, implementing smart manufacturing tools could feel like taking a shot in the dark.

Here’s what you need to keep in mind if you want smart manufacturing to be part of your future.

#1: Smart manufacturing needs data

It probably doesn’t come as any surprise that smart manufacturing technology requires data. After all, data is to digital transformation as oxygen is to us — absolutely necessary.

The trick is that a smart manufacturing initiative both needs data and empowers the collection of data. It’s a chicken-and-egg situation. 

Instead of worrying about which comes first, it’s more important to know what data you have and what you still need when implementing smart manufacturing technologies. Here’s a closer look:

  • What you have: To set yourself up for a successful digital transformation, you need to know what your data looks like, where it’s coming from and how it can be used to even greater benefit. For example, say you have a lot of data, but it’s spread across different systems and can’t be compared side-by-side to make multifaceted decisions. That means you’re capturing information from multiple sources, which is good — you just need help organizing, accessing and utilizing that data.

  • What you still need: To make the most of smart technology, it’s vital to understand what’s missing from your manufacturing worldview. For many factories, that’s complete, accurate, up-to-date information. To check all three boxes, you need a way for everyone on the factory floor to capture data (complete — check), automation to simplify the capture process and reduce human error (accurate — check) and a platform that allows immediate access to this data (up-to-date — check).

As you consider what you have and what you need, you’re likely to realize there’s a key similarity: Big Data. Big Data refers to particularly large data sets — and as smart manufacturing solutions make it quicker and easier to gather information, you’ll run into Big Data more and more often. That means you’ll need tools robust enough to handle all of this data without overwhelming you or your systems.

That’s where the second key element of smart manufacturing comes into play: evolving technologies.

#2: Smart manufacturing needs evolving technologies

To be part of this new-age industrial revolution, you must be ready to embrace change. After all, the term is digital transformation, not digital stagnation.

The good news is that smart manufacturing can help you adapt to all these technological changes. By providing clarity into asset performance, inventory tracking, maintenance management and more, smart manufacturing solutions help you identify the precise impacts of a new tool or adjustment. Better yet, technology is baked into the DNA of a smart factory — which means you’ll experience a true digital transformation rather than multiple disjointed attempts at upgrading.

That’s the secret to mastering this element of smart manufacturing: Keep an open mind. Remember, you’re walking on a path paved by the “old ways” — smart factories have just taken a few steps forward.

#3: Smart manufacturing needs people

The last thing to consider when implementing smart manufacturing solutions is also the most important — and, perhaps, the most overlooked.

The truth is that nothing we’ve talked about today — including automation, mobile capture, eliminating downtime and even smart manufacturing itself — would be possible without people. This is true for three big reasons:

People perform vital tasks

Automation and artificial intelligence might be able to tell you when a machine needs service and how exactly to perform that task, but people are still the ones who roll up their sleeves and make maintenance or production magic happen. Even when the supply chain is introducing uncertainties, numbers aren’t lining up, materials aren’t arriving and products aren’t going out the door, you can count on people to be right there doing their best.

People keep the modern industrial revolution human

The key to an ideal digital transformation isn’t to replace every moving part in your plant with a machine. Instead, it’s to take the “error” out of “human error” and leave all the good things people bring to their jobs. Sure, we aren’t perfect — but we do have those elements of spontaneity, curiosity, innovation and inspiration that have driven every previous industrial revolution. The human element is a valuable one — no manufacturer should risk losing it.

People have good ideas

Your teams will be on the front lines of your smart factory, entering data, adopting new technologies, using smart manufacturing platforms — and in the process, they’ll have opportunities to find bigger and better ways of doing things. These good ideas are what make smart manufacturing the rich, comprehensive vision that it is, which is why people will always be at the heart of the process.

Get smart with a smart manufacturing platform

If you want to experience the power of digital transformation and see your plant earn the title “smart factory,” you’re going to need a little help. Luckily, we know just what you need to succeed when it comes to smart manufacturing.

Our smart manufacturing platform connects data, evolving technologies and people to create the perfect balance of automation and human ingenuity. It’s the first — and most important — step toward a smart factory.

Ready to get smart? Request a platform demo today!

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Kevin Bryan

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