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Don’t Wait for Standards Before Moving Closer to Smart Manufacturing

Smart Manufacturing has been making a lot of noise in the manufacturing industry, mostly due to how automation can greatly improve manufacturing operations through enhanced productivity. Also known as the “New Industrial Revolution”, this may indeed drastically shift the entire world of manufacturing.

By BMW Werk Leipzig ( [CC BY-SA 2.0 de (], via Wikimedia Commons

So, what is it?

According to Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, Smart Manufacturing is defined as “integrating network-based data and information that comprises the real-time understanding, reasoning, planning, and management of all aspects of a manufacturing and supply chain enterprise.” Some refer to smart manufacturing as the digitization of various processes in a manufacturing company.

A company that has moved forward to smart manufacturing utilizes intelligent machines, networks, and systems to handle and manage different processes in their operation. Smart manufacturing is basically a term highlighting the different technologies used in manufacturing to make the processes more efficient and more effective.

However, as of 2014, 87% of U.S. companies reportedly did not use Smart Manufacturing despite reports in increased efficiency, lower product defects, and customer satisfaction gains by those using Smart Manufacturing. Although initial investments and a dip in profitability during the first few years are expected when moving to smart manufacturing, these are just hurdles to profitable growth.

Aside from the cost factor, the 87% may be having reservations because the new standards are yet to be implemented. Although there are existing frameworks, and initiatives on standardization done by some countries like USA, China, and Germany, these may not be enough for some manufacturers to use Smart Manufacturing.

But if the industry, in this fast-paced tech-driven age, will inevitably move towards smart manufacturing, why wait for new standards to be imposed? Smart Manufacturing is in a continuous development phase, so why not reap the following benefits now?

Improved Productivity

When factories automate certain aspects of production, the processes are made more efficient. Resource management is more manageable: energy, time, materials, and manpower are regulated towards creating better products with much less resources. Product consistency, as well, is easily achieved, which is not only important but critical in manufacturing.

By KUKA Roboter GmbH, Bachmann [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Smart manufacturing is estimated to deliver 10x improvement in time to market in some industries, 40% reduction in cycle times, 10% improvement in overall operating efficiency, 25% reduction in water usage, and 25% improvement in energy efficiency. All of these result to great improvements in overall productivity.

Changying Precision Technology Company, a company that produces mobile phones with a factory in Dongguan, China is a drastic example of how robots are utilized to increase productivity. The Chinese factory reduced its 650-employee factory workforce to just 60 people – a huge 90% reduction – and used robots to get the tasks done. This resulted to increased production of up to 250%.

Adidas is another company that is shifting to robot factories. They are developing their Speedfactory model which are robot-powered factories that automate most of the work in their production process.

Real-time System Assessment

The entire manufacturing process is broken down in its different phases for a more in-depth monitoring and evaluation of each step and procedure. Any challenges, possible weaknesses, and points of improvements are easily identified and can be resolved much quicker. Communication will be elevated with the help of real-time monitoring, paving way to more efficient resolutions.

One example is how Hershey’s used sensors to sense candy temperature to get a precise final candy weight. They are able to do this with the help of cloud-based machine learning in Microsoft Azure. The use of the sensors allowed the production team to get to know their product and the process better. They are able to identify certain conditions such as specific temperatures that they should avoid to ensure that they are producing optimally. Thanks to machine learning, the more they use this system to predict the net weight of their candies, the better they will be at it.

Financial Gains

Venturing into Smart Manufacturing is an investment with great returns. Though a bit costly initially, with new pieces of equipment and their maintenance, increase in revenue and reduction in costs will be seen in the long run. Businesses implementing Smart Manufacturing may slowly integrate automation in their productions through purchases of smaller equipment, so costs are not too high too suddenly.

In Hershey’s use of sensors, the resulting more precise weight for each candy might not mean much of a goal to some but with the amount of candies they are producing, this sums up to a lot. This small detail allowed them to lower the extra weight they are putting in each product to be able to meet their minimum promised weight indicated in the packaging. This resulted to almost $500,000 savings in each 14,000-gallon batch.

Enterprise Sustainability

Efficient use of resources in the production aims to eliminate wastes, including manpower schedule and even the usage of machines. Smart Manufacturing enhances better communication between operators, engineers, and managers by displaying results even during production. Real–time system assessment accomplishes the first critical steps to keep operations afloat. These are all contributing factors toward turning the business to sustainability, and eventually, consistent business growth.

By ICAPlants (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Jobs Creation

Some people mistakenly have the impression that moving to smart manufacturing will take away jobs from humans. This is highly inaccurate. Although smart manufacturing may involve industrial robots taking over some tasks, humans will still be needed to manage and work around these robots. A move to smart manufacturing will create jobs in the upper rungs of the ladder. Having smart manufacturing tools and processes in place opens opportunities for the human workforce to focus on business development, to come up with innovations, and to think creatively. While the robots and automated solutions may take away the repetitive tasks from human hands, it demands more highly skilled sustainable jobs to be created.

Germany gives a great example in how using more robots does not equate to less human jobs. German manufacturing companies deploy three times more robots than the United States but are employing more humans compared to the United States.

Safer Workplace

Among the benefits of smart manufacturing is an estimated 25% reduction in safety incidents. Lesser human intervention, especially in physically demanding manufacturing processes, will result to improved worker safety. Smart manufacturing systems will also help improve workplace security which also translates to improved overall safety in the workplace.

Customer Satisfaction

As manufacturers heavily rely on the loyalty of customers, they must ensure their satisfaction first. What customers are looking for is consistent and great-quality products, easily achievable through automation of processes. Happy customers are loyal customers, and loyal customers make manufacturers happy in return.

Though the standardization of Smart Manufacturing is currently evolving and developing, take a step forward and enjoy the benefits today!

Author: Rana Tarakji is a contributor at PDF Electric & Supply, an automation supplier with corporate office located in Cary, North Carolina.


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