Smart manufacturing might sound like the newest industry buzzword, but it has the potential to shape the entire manufacturing industry in the next decade or so. Countries across the globe are making plans to adopt smart manufacturing as a way to strengthen their own hold on the industry. Let's take a look at smart manufacturing and what you need to know before it becomes mainstream.
What Is Smart Manufacturing?
At its core, smart manufacturing is the use of Internet of Things (IoT) devices in manufacturing, but there is much more to it than that. The concept of smart manufacturing is made up of 4 main pillars:
- Smart Factory: Mixing data and physical production to eliminate things like downtime and product defects.
- Industry 4.0: A perfect merging of computers and automation, with the potential for computers equipped with learning algorithms that could eventually learn to correct their own mistakes.
- Digital Manufacturing: Using 3-D rendering to directly assist in the creation and manufacturing of new products.
- IoT/IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things): Relying on internal and external networks with a net of interconnected machines. Also known as smart devices, IIoT refers to the specific types of IoT devices that are used in the manufacturing industry.
Smart manufacturing is essentially the first step toward utilizing this technology to make your factory, shop or business more efficient and effective. What do you need to know before this practice becomes an integral part of the manufacturing industry?
You Don’t Need to Replace Your Existing Equipment
We all know how expensive it can be to replace an existing piece of equipment, especially if that hardware is new and hasn’t yet paid for itself. Thankfully, the minds behind smart manufacturing have considered this fact. You don’t need to buy new IoT-enabled equipment to benefit from it. You can retrofit your equipment to make it IoT compatible without replacing the entire unit. This effectively makes the transition to smart manufacturing much simpler and doesn’t involve emptying your company’s coffer to keep up with the changing face of the industry.
It Makes the Workplace Safer
Workplace injuries in the manufacturing industry are on the decline, but injuries still occur throughout the year. The introduction of IoT and smart manufacturing can, in essence, take employees out of the line of fire by using robotics and networked hardware to complete the most dangerous and injury-prone jobs on the factory floor.
And don’t worry — this isn’t a case of replacing workers with robots. Instead, it’s a way to keep your employees safe while they’re on the job. Completing the job is important, but so is keeping your employees injury-free.
How Can I Adopt Smart Manufacturing Techniques?
After you understand smart manufacturing and how it can benefit your business, you can start incorporating it into your own little corner of the industry. Here are a few tips:
- Collect. One of the biggest things you’re going to need as you start transitioning into smart manufacturing is data. If you don’t already collect and store all of your data, start now. Once you collect a good base of information, you can start applying predictive analytics, which is taking the mass of data you’ve collected and applying predictive algorithms to it. You can find trends, predict industry changes and better determine what parts of your manufacturing process would benefit from the introduction of smart manufacturing.
- Work from the top down. No matter what part of the manufacturing industry you work in, smart manufacturing will require an investment and quite possibly a massive overhaul of your techniques. Any switch to smart manufacturing starts at the top of the company and trickles its way down. You wouldn’t want to start installing IoT retrofits that take your company in the opposite direction from where you’re trying to go.
- Don’t be afraid to start small. It might be tempting to jump in with both feet and start retrofitting everything you can, but enormous changes like that will hobble your production while you’re trying to adapt. Instead, start small and make sure the change is fully incorporated into your standard operating procedures before taking the next step.
- Stop being afraid of change. Companies around the globe have already started adopting IoT-based techniques, much to their benefit. One report found that between 2013 and 2014, companies that started adopting IoT saw an average of a 28.5% increase in revenue. Where would your company be if you made more than a quarter more than you did the year before?
Smart manufacturing is the newest innovation, following in the great tradition that started with the invention of the steam engine and the beginning of the industrial revolution. These new innovations will make the manufacturing industry more effective, more efficient and more productive than ever before.