Industry 4.0 • May 13, 2016

Smart Manufacturing: What is it? What are the Barriers? Where Do I Begin?

iBase-t Experts

Kicking off the first session in MESA’s Smart Manufacturing track at the Manufacturing & Technology Conference, iBase-t lead an interactive presentation explaining the current landscape of Smart Manufacturing, and the barriers businesses face to achieve this type of connected environment. While decision makers have only recently realized the potential of Smart Manufacturing, those working directly with technology on the shop floor understand the economic potential it portends. In this post we’ll dive into what Smart Manufacturing is, the barriers to implementation, and the benefit a Digital Thread has in linking materials-design-processing-manufacturing to provide agility and rapid development and production within manufacturing environments.

What is Smart Manufacturing?

With all the latest buzzwords and new manufacturing acronyms consistently sprouting, it’s difficult to keep track of how they all relate to your manufacturing needs. However, if you have not heard the term, “Smart Manufacturing,” odds are you may be more familiar with its European counterpart, “Industrie 4.0.” Today, both terms are used interchangeably as they both leverage the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), Cloud, and Digital Thread technologies.

During iBase-t’s session, led by Conrad Leiva, VP Product Strategy and Alliances, The Smart Manufacturing Landscape Explained, Smart Manufacturing was defined as, “The intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain.” This definition left attendees to ponder how a Smart Manufacturing environment would look within their own plant. Ideas from the audience of how they envisioned a connected manufacturing environment included:

  • Product value chains that extend into suppliers and customers
  • Connected enterprises from customer to suppliers with as few steps as possible
  • Shop floors that are enabled to run themselves
  • Factories which can adapt to more automated processes
  • Smart machines throughout the factory connected via IIoT
  • Production flows monitored in real-time to eliminate waste
  • Aggregate product data used to identify and correct quality issues.

For most, this list seemed like a distant concept, however there are examples of innovative and progressive companies using today’s technology to create a true Digital Thread. Which led us to wonder why all businesses haven’t embarked on this new environment.

Barriers to Smart Manufacturing

Technology is not the roadblock to this endeavor, in fact, the technology is already here. When discussing the barriers to Smart Manufacturing during the session, the audience unanimously agreed technology was not a factor. They provided the following list of barriers:

  • Economic: Decision makers can’t see the benefits of implementing technology into the manufacturing process. While many can be paralyzed by the investment and effort of acquiring new technology, experts must look beyond the initial investment, considering the time and money that will ultimately be gained by incorporating such an environment.
  • Social/Cultural: Of course this is the more common objection surrounding most innovations. You’ll never hear it spoken aloud, but it happens all the time: “You’re right, but we’re not ready.” This occurs when there is a lack of urgency to implement new technology as things seem to be working fine with the status quo. One audience member referenced the famous quote from Jim Collins, “Good is the enemy of great,” to summarize the acceptance of keeping the manufacturing plant in its current state.
  • Security: The increasing use of connected devices inside plants and along supply chains causes many to ask, “Is our information safe?” Prevention of security risks starts with quality vendors and examining vulnerabilities at each “touchpoint.” An audience member referenced a, “Hack-a-thon” that their plant had incorporated to test areas of weakness within their connected systems.

Once these barriers were identified, the conversation then turned to a discussion on how they to begin a journey to Smart Manufacturing.

Getting started on the journey to Smart Manufacturing

The way to ignite your Smart Manufacturing journey is to start small and pick your opportunities of improvement carefully. Once the opportunity for improvement has been identified, create a pilot program that is aligned with Lean practices and values that break down barriers to create a vision for an effective and streamlined manufacturing environment. A list of the sequence of steps provided during Conrad’s session to begin this journey is highlighted below:

  1. Review Business Structure for Future Market Strategy
  2. Establish Evolution Milestones for the Journey
  3. Nurture New Culture around New Vision
  4. Build Partnerships to Support New Vision
  5. Address Skills Gap for Knowledge Workers
  6. Evolve the Information Technology Infrastructure

Upon the completion of the session surrounding the Smart Manufacturing Landscape attendees were left understanding that the inflection point where the availability of technology, data collection and the ability to connect factories is a reality. To begin your journey into a Smart Manufacturing environment you must first understand the foundation which it leverages: the Digital Thread. For more information on how your business can unify design, manufacturing and ERP, download our eBook: Enabling the Digital Thread.

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