7 Questions To Ask Before You Consume Smart Manufacturing

The benefits of smart manufacturing are significant. Is your organisation ready for the investment and the reward?
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Smart manufacturing offers significant benefits: faster response to changing market and consumer demands, reduced inventory, and improved efficiency and productivity, just to name a few.

In smart manufacturing discussions across the enterprise, from shop floor to top floor, people are making assumptions (sometimes inaccurate) about what it is, who is ready to consume it and how (and how soon) they will benefit. 

As someone who makes decisions every day about manufacturing technology, I know first hand how beneficial the right discussions can be – and how distracting bad assumptions can become.

1. Are your smart manufacturing assumptions accurate?

Depending on where you are located in the world, you might reference smart manufacturing, Industrie 4.0, Made in China 2025 or Advanced Manufacturing Partnership 2.0. 

All are based on the same premise – investing in programs and initiatives to help accelerate and recognise the new era of IT-optimised manufacturing that can be a catalyst in the next big industrial movement.

What we are seeing now, and will only continue to see at an accelerated pace, are paradigm shifts in quality, productivity and global competitiveness.

Before we dig deeper into the other questions, let us talk about two of the biggest misconceptions around smart manufacturing.

IAA Inner Top Banner 30 April 2020

  1. With smart manufacturing, you need fewer people. You might be using smart devices, and you might be connected end to end, but you still need people to engage technology. Smart manufacturing without people is like a smartphone without a user. For anything real or useful to occur, a symbiotic relationship is required. Smart manufacturing augments people; people drive productivity.
  2. One size fits all. You do not buy smart manufacturing the way someone buys a product off the shelf. Solutions are tailored, and they address specific industry, company and challenge, even down to discrete versus process or high-mix-low-volume versus high-volume-low-mix. While your desired outcome might be the same as the manufacturer down the street, how you deploy smart manufacturing strategies to get there will be as unique as your operations.

Universally, smart manufacturing is sustainable, optimised and demand-driven. It is how we will do more without adding cost to the equation. That is because people and machines will collect, consume and use data wisely to make better real-time decisions and will collaborate to become more efficient and productive.

The result: Driving the desired output to meet changing consumer demands and the ability to take advantage of emerging technology opportunities.

2. Why the sudden (intense) focus on smart manufacturing?

We have always had data – from machines, processes and operations. If you have any smart machines in your operation right now, you may be data-rich. But do you have the right data to understand where you are, how you got there, where you should be and what you need to do to get there?

As producers, we struggle with articulating data to save time, to prevent errors and to turn data into insights. The ability to leverage insights to increase capacity, reduce cost and improve quality is hampered when IT departments manage OT-related analytics tools.

One solution is to employ a data scientist to mesh your data so you can understand, optimise and improve your manufacturing practices.

If that is not a realistic option (and let’s face it, for most operations, a dedicated data scientist is not in the plan), you can create a robust analytics environment to visualise and then optimise that data so operators (remote or on-site) can act on what they see (and become their own data scientists).

The availability of analytics, and the ability to create a robust analytics environment to harness and use that data, is the driver behind the intense focus on smart manufacturing.

3. Is Smart Manufacturing A Thing Or A System Of Things?

Smart manufacturing is a manufacturing system that gives you information as you engage it. It is inclusive of every stage, from product design and supply chain to manufacturing and customer delivery. It all starts with order and our desire to be more efficient and engaged in the process of delivering that order, from concept to commercialisation to customer.

Having connected machines will allow you to better leverage the most powerful element that too few organisations today are fully capitalising on: your real-time data.

This intangible commodity is the key to better understanding your operational performance at the most granular level so you can improve operations, and produce more at higher-quality levels, more efficiently.

But to capture this value, you must adopt these enabling technologies:

  • Smart Things – more devices connecting to your networks
  • Data Analytics – turning data into actionable information
  • Scalable Computing/Cloud – leveraging scalable computing, including off-premise resources
  • Mobility – immediate awareness of the data, leading to a more productive workforce
  • Security – everything must be secure

Another intangible commodity of smart devices is engagement. Through feedback and machine learning, the diagnostics in our ecosystem – our system of things – can learn behaviour to expect what is next, what is right and what is wrong and to fix itself.

In manufacturing, it is all about time and touches. Your labour costs are the time to build a finished good from components. Through feedback, the more we know, the easier it is to eliminate time and touch and to reduce the opportunity for error.

Through smart devices and smart manufacturing, we can track and trace every single component of every single product that is part of every single solution and system. And you can validate it based on your smart manufacturing process giving you feedback.

4. Do smart devices and big data make manufacturing smart?

No, they do not. Smart devices, collaborative robots and big data are not creating smart manufacturing; they are enabling it.

A system where all things are connected, a truly connected enterprise, will drive:

  1. Improved product productivity
  2. Improved system efficiency
  3. More accurate scheduling
  4. Better enterprise risk management

Real Results

Here is an example. Like many industrial and manufacturing companies, Rockwell Automation has a diverse product portfolio. We have plants spread across the globe and a variety of manufacturing processes, averaging 200 different part numbers per order and a product life of 20 years.

In addition to standard or make-to-stock manufacturing, some sites are geared toward engineer-to-order (ETO) manufacturing, and others produce custom-made products and parts. Others are configure-to-order (CTO) manufacturing plants that configure all variable parameters associated with a base product chosen by an OEM or end-user.

We made a goal to gain a new view of our enterprise that allowed plant managers and operators to read actionable information quickly. By integrating applications into one system, overall production functionality improved and supported our transition toward standardisation.

By integrating information across IT and control systems, and from the plant floor to the enterprise, we optimised our communication capabilities and business agility by creating our Connected Enterprise and achieved some incredible results.

Smart devices do not make manufacturing smart; they work in concert with users of the information to make it smart.

Smart devices advance our ability to do things efficiently and safely. They provide data; the cloud is the repository of that data, when necessary. (In many cases, it is more efficient to keep the data at the machine rather than the cloud.)

The point is, we can pull from all of these places to mash up the data and use analytics to create the exact dashboard we need to make real-time decisions.

5. What does smart manufacturing produce (that is useful to you)?

Smart manufacturing systems deliver productivity and efficiency – and they do so within the confines of specific schedules. You produce what the customer expects, within budget and on time.

So smart manufacturing is a system of discrete, connected devices that produce information that allows people to make the right decisions to drive the desired manufacturing outcomes and reach targeted improvements.

Supported by Software

Any smart manufacturing system must include software packages that support:

  • Visualisation. This includes MES layer integration, machine data visualisation, and business unit alignment.
  • Optimisation. Focuses on operational efficiency and productivity, application of analytics, and risk management.
  • User Experience. Takes into account the abilities of any user, scalability from plant manager through an operator, and operational intelligence.

How many times have you walked into your manufacturing area to find operators guessing about an issue? The software leverages data and visualisation to remove assumptions and improves efficiency by offering the correct diagnosis of a problem. Operators can fix that problem rather than relying on guesswork and hit-and-miss tactics that potentially create new problems.

Software like FactoryTalk InnovationSuite, powered by PTC, provides greater productivity through simplification of complex processes.

This is an example of a software suite we use that helps us optimise our industrial operations and enhance productivity – it provides decision-makers with improved data and insights, offering complete visibility of operations and systems status from one source of information inside the organisation.

6. What is my investment? And what do I gain?

Your investment in smart manufacturing will vary greatly depending on your current situation.

You need four things before you can start to realise the greatest benefits:

  1. Culture. Does your environment right now have a brick wall between IT and OT? Conflicting goals of IT and operations, the reality of needing to extend the life of existing automation assets and myriad confusing technology trends can make it difficult to know if your workforce is ready.
  2. Plan. A phased, holistic approach that can leverage your existing machine assets and also allows you to easily integrate promising new technologies is a solid place to start.
  3. People. It is important to structure the right cross-functional team that can conduct a comparison of current state versus future state vision to quantify gaps and opportunities. That team needs support from operations and executive leadership.
  4. Infrastructure. You need a solid, defined architecture to clarify how you can connect at every stage of your value chain and determine where you get the most value. Without this, you can throw the best technology at a problem, but you will not realise your desired outcome, and you will experience lower-than-average adoption rates because companies will not see the value.

Once these four elements are in place, you can connect, evaluate, collect, present and optimise. Smart manufacturing that connects, evaluates, collects, presents and optimises can help you advance your use of manufacturing and industrial operations to navigate the IIoT and take advantage of real-time information that drives profitability, and that safely and securely boosts productivity.

Your customers get the product/system/solution they were promised when it was promised.

Your employees are more engaged, better trained and more capable of handling future OT/IT configurations and advanced technologies.

Your partners better understand what is needed and how to deliver, just in time, with a better line of sight that makes your manufacturing more predictable.

Your shareholders get a better return on their investments because you are driving improved levels of productivity and efficiency – encouraging greater levels of reinvestment.

The world benefits as you continue to use fewer resources and use them more efficiently.

7. How do I know I’m ready to consume smart manufacturing?

Are you capable, right now, of benefiting from what smart manufacturing can provide? The information available in manufacturing is not a new phenomenon. In many cases, it is always there, tucked deep into systems. The differentiator of smart manufacturing is the ease and speed with which this data is available and the mechanisms to make it manageable, usable and, therefore, valuable.

An industrial asset is smart when it gives feedback to the system and is connected to a network. A smart asset needs to be self-aware, system-aware, accessible and visualised. Your assets will be transformed into intelligent assets that are capable of reporting information, such as energy and diagnostics. Such contextualised data is needed for transformation into actionable information.

Self-aware assets acquire and process data to report information, such as self-diagnostics and energy use. System-aware assets share common system features; auto-configure key system attributes, such as safety and security; and collaborate with common software tools and interfaces.

Self-aware and system-aware smart assets, when enhanced with contemporary technologies, such as scalable computing, analytics and mobility, create the foundation for your high- performance architecture.


While each of the technologies addressed can add value to industrial processes, the transformational value of smart manufacturing is only realised when you can seamlessly integrate these technologies in an aware system that is intuitive, self-adaptive and secure.

Article by Kevin Carpenter, VP, manufacturing services, Rockwell Automation.


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