Numerous initiatives have been put into motion around the world to fundamentally transform manufacturing as we know it.
The initiatives have different names – from the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition and Industrie 4.0 in the west, to Made in China 2025 and Manufacturing Innovation 3.0 in the east – but they share a common pursuit: smart manufacturing.
This global push for smart manufacturing is underway for good reason. By providing greater connectivity across a manufacturing enterprise and the ability to act on production intelligence, smart manufacturing offers nearly unlimited opportunities for manufacturers to improve their operations, create new value and respond to challenges such as the skilled-labor shortage.
For example, manufacturers are using embedded machinery intelligence to predict equipment failures and improve productivity. They’re using remote-access capabilities to monitor multiple machines simultaneously from a centralized location, enabling them to better utilize labor. They’re extending this greater connectivity and information sharing outside their production walls to better track and coordinate supply chain activities. And they’re using contemporary cloud technologies to change business models and build new revenue streams.
However, while some forward-thinking manufacturers have fully embraced smart manufacturing and are already reaping the benefits, most still have much work ahead of them.
Case in point: Only 11 percent of manufacturers have implemented a strategy to apply Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to production processes, according to a recent survey by The MPI Group. Even worse, about half of manufacturers said they are still struggling with the basics of defining and implementing an IoT strategy.
Building the Infrastructure
Adoption of key enabling technologies is an essential part of a smart-manufacturing approach. This includes leveraging the IoT, an ever-growing proliferation of connected “smart” devices, to better understand quality, efficiency, security and safety. It also includes the strategic use of cloud computing, mobility and data analytics.
And while most manufacturers are not yet prepared to deploy smart manufacturing technologies, they clearly see opportunities for using them. According to the MPI study, the top five objectives that manufacturers identified for incorporating the IoT into their operations are: improved product quality, increased speed of operations, decreased manufacturing costs, improved maintenance and uptime, and improved information for business analytics.
Achieving these objectives requires an integrated architecture and a strategy for using smart manufacturing technologies. Specifically, manufacturers must converge their Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) systems into a single, unified network infrastructure and identify opportunities for using IoT technologies that enable seamless connectivity and information sharing across people, processes and things.
At the same time, manufacturers also need to ensure they can efficiently manage their greater abundance of data in ways that helps them make better, faster business decisions. This includes using IoT device intelligence, cloud connectivity and data analytics all together to help manage the large data sets required for balancing production activities based on upstream inventories and downstream demand.
Rockwell Automation calls this The Connected Enterprise. And manufacturers that are seeking to build a Connected Enterprise in support of a smart manufacturing deployment in their operations should focus on the following four core tactics:
1. Increasing Quality and Productivity
Quality-management and continuous-improvement programs can only do so much when the information they rely on is limited or not available in real-time.
Manufacturers are using embedded machine or equipment intelligence to monitor virtually every product specification in real time, either from a customer or regulatory perspective. More than that, they’re using this intelligence to rapidly address product defects and variations as they happen, ensure quality goals are met, and improve customer satisfaction.
Better control and transparency of manufacturing processes through the use of embedded intelligence also creates new opportunities to improve productivity. For example, operators on the plant floor are now analyzing real-time production data to uncover hidden inefficiencies and implement changes faster. At the supply-chain level, managers and logistics professionals are using smart manufacturing technologies to deliver critical information, such as forecasts and schedules to suppliers, while also monitoring delivery performances.
2. Improving Decision-Making
Better decision-making in a Connected Enterprise begins with working data capital. However, most manufacturers have older systems in place that will need to be updated for the next generation of productivity.
This involves reconciling their disparate OT data sources with their current IT systems, extracting the right data from smart manufacturing technologies, and transforming that data into actionable information.
Manufacturers that have taken these steps and armed themselves with better information are using it to optimize their assets, improve their responsiveness to changing customer needs, refine work flows and reduce inventory. More than that, they’re gaining new, strategic insights that help them understand their business in deeper ways, including:
- Identifying operational strengths and weaknesses
- Analyzing processes and planning improvement initiatives
- Designing and implementing better production systems
- Developing targeted training programs
- Establishing performance management systems
3. Establishing Safe and Reliable Operations
Achieving safe, compliant and reliable operations is an ongoing concern for any manufacturer, and smart manufacturing provides new opportunities for dealing with some of these age-old challenges.
The most obvious opportunities will include replacing the obsolete and isolated automation systems that have exceeded their life spans, are difficult to connect, and are no longer supported by their manufacturer. But manufacturers also should define new requirements based on past performance in areas such as employee injuries, machinery downtime and work stoppages.
From there, they can prioritize processes and equipment for re-design. They should consider using embedded intelligence to gather real-time data, including equipment status and exception-based reporting, that can be contextualized and delivered as role-based analytics in areas such as quality, safety, compliance, energy-usage and downtime issues. Different stakeholders, from quality and safety managers to operators and maintenance technicians, can then use that information to optimize machine performance, manufacturing processes, compliance and more.
Manufacturers should also make these processes collaborative, such as asking line workers where smarter machine assets can provide more visibility and control of complex production processes.
4. Securing the Infrastructure
Greater information availability and more connection points can introduce greater risk to manufacturing environments in the form of internal and external threats. Indeed, cyber attackers are now looking beyond corporate servers to target operations technologies, while decades-old devices and controls on the plant floor can be more susceptible to breaches through both malicious attacks and unintentional employee actions.
No single security technology or methodology will suffice in this complex threat landscape. Instead, manufacturers must employ a comprehensive, defense-in-depth approach that establishes security safeguards at different layers to stop threats on multiple fronts.
A robust and secure network infrastructure should be built on standard and unmodified Ethernet, which has become the industry preference for security purposes. It also should ensure technicians can securely manage software installations, patches and upgrades for years to come, and incorporate strong security policies and procedures for everything from machine operations to bring your own device (BYOD).
Beginning the Journey
Smart manufacturing offers nearly unlimited potential, and it all begins with establishing a Connected Enterprise as the foundation for achieving greater connectivity and information sharing.
Some of the most common questions that manufacturers are asking today as they prepare to build a Connected Enterprise include:
- What continuous improvement processes can smart manufacturing help me with?
- What business process transformation is going to provide me with a competitive advantage?
- And is smart manufacturing going to get me there?
- What organizational changes are needed to facilitate smart manufacturing, and can I adopt technologies incrementally so that continuous improvement is defined through continuous investment?
- How do I measure the benefits?
- Am I ready for an ongoing journey to The Connected Enterprise versus a one-time event?
Manufacturers that address these questions up front and keep the four core tactics for building a Connected Enterprise in mind as they plan a smart manufacturing strategy will be better prepared to capitalize on its true potential.