How to Get ‘Smart’ About Your Manufacturing Process
When it comes to pioneering changes in the workplace, ‘smart manufacturing’ is one to watch closely. Smart manufacturing combines multiple technological fronts and is quickly reshaping the landscape of manufacturing operations around the globe. Businesses that don’t rapidly adopt new technologies are likely to get left behind as smart factories become the standard. What is smart manufacturing, and how does it work in practice? Understanding the important elements of smart manufacturing is key to creating and maintaining competitive advantages in a rapidly changing world.
What It Means to Get ‘Smart’ in the World of Manufacturing
To appreciate smart manufacturing, you first have to understand Industry 4.0. In a nutshell, the term refers to a fourth phase of the Industrial Revolution. Let’s take a quick look at the history:
- Industrial Revolution: Production shifted from farming to factories in the 19th century.
- Industry 2.0: Beginning with the development of steel and peaking with early factory electrification, this phase included the introduction of mass production.
- Industry 3.0: This phase covered the shift from analog and mechanical technology to digital technology, and spanned from the late 1950s to the late ’70s.
- Industry 4.0: The current chapter of manufacturing focuses on using data, connected devices, and other technology to achieve results that would never have been possible in the past.
Smart manufacturing is a key element of Industry 4.0. It is an approach driven by technology, designed to leverage equipment to increase process efficiency and monitor production. It’s all about collecting as much data as possible and analyzing it in ways that provide actionable insights and concrete efficiency improvements. The central characteristics of smart manufacturing are the use of data collection systems, real-time communications, and Artificial Intelligence (AI) for analytics.
Why Smart Manufacturing Matters
Every machine and the execution of every process has the potential to create immense amounts of data. However, until fairly recently, there wasn’t a way to adequately capture that data. Even once methods for data collection became more commonplace, the means of analyzing that data remained elusive. The rise of smart manufacturing meant that our ability to extract useful information from massive datasets dramatically improved and that created significant implications for many manufacturing businesses.
The most apparent impact of smart manufacturing practices is improved productivity arising from more seamless information flow. Manufacturers can use real-time data to determine what they need and when they need it, allowing them to streamline the entire supply chain. Suppliers can also quickly adjust to changes in demand and focus their resources on specific customer requirements. The tangible benefit of a real-time flow of information is minimized waste, reduced downtime and proper inventory levels throughout the supply chain.
Increased Innovation and Higher Quality Products
The result of higher productivity is improved profit margins. This generates more capital to invest in the production process. The money saved can go toward product development or an investment in higher quality materials. Smart manufacturing data can also help identify customer needs, providing opportunities to develop new products or revisit the design of existing products.
Better Manufacturing Jobs
Robotics in manufacturing is becoming more common. That doesn’t mean smart manufacturing will eliminate jobs. For example, evidence shows that tech-based manufacturing jobs created by smart manufacturing revitalize the talent pool and attract a more skilled workforce to an industry. Potential workers recognize the value of using data to improve performance and increase productivity.
Energy consumption is a cost of doing business, but it makes a more significant impact on some industries than others. Energy-intensive industries can use data generated by smart equipment to track energy expenditures and identify areas for waste reduction. Reducing our carbon footprint is excellent for meeting social responsibility goals, and it results in savings that allow manufacturers to make products more affordable.
Six Examples of Smart Manufacturing Technology
Manufacturers have more opportunities than ever before to incorporate smart manufacturing technology into the production process. Especially when combined, these technologies allow manufacturers to become more flexible, sustainable, and productive. Here are six ways industry leaders are using smart manufacturing:
1. Inventory and Network Optimization
Inventory and network optimization are cornerstones of an intelligent manufacturing process. New technology influences four main aspects of inventory systems:
- Process: For many manufacturers, the technology of Industry 4.0 allows full digitization and automation of the purchase and fulfillment processes. The use of real-time data allows a smart system to trigger orders automatically based on specific conditions.
- Classification: Many manufacturers use the ABC classification system to manage inventory. It involves ranking products by descending order of dollar value with other calculations. Smart manufacturing can automate the classification process if the dollar values and locations of the products are known.
- Parameters: Supply lead time, carrying cost, ordering cost, demand, selling price, and purchasing price are all critical parameters for an inventory system. Thanks to the near-instant communication provided by Industry 4.0 technology, this essential information is available to all relevant parties throughout the process.
- Review: Manufacturers typically choose from periodic audits of inventory or a system that continuously reviews stock. Smart manufacturing data collection facilitates continuous analysis as a more convenient option, leading to higher overall accuracy and oversight.
Inventory network optimization is the process of deciding when to order supplies and how much to order. The resulting inventory policy can minimize the total cost of operations and maximize the level of customer service. The two variables that guide the decision are the time an order is entered and the order quantity.
Additionally, the system parameters used to formulate optimization may be fixed or variable over time, with the occasional random change that requires further adjustment. Through the use of deep data analytics, manufacturers can optimize inventory networks and respond more quickly to unexpected changes in system parameters.
2. Predictive Analytics
Nearly any piece of manufacturing equipment can be purchased with data collecting capabilities, or upgraded to provide information on operations. With all these sensors and databases comes the need to make sense of the constant flow of information, making data analysis crucial to smart manufacturing. Predictive analytics is a field concerned with using data on past performance to predict future performance as well as anticipate needs.
Maintenance is one significant area that predictive analytics can provide value. Unexpected downtime due to equipment failure can result in huge losses, and sometimes even a routine maintenance schedule will not reveal a problem waiting to happen. Factory equipment that comes with diagnostic features can continuously monitor how a machine or system is running and alert when an operational issue is indicated. This ability has a dual effect on reducing unexpected breakdowns and reducing the burden on technicians.
Predictive analytics also has a strong hand in inventory and supply chain management. Machine learning and algorithms can identify patterns in data sets to streamline the manufacturing process, increase speed, and minimize waste.
3. Internet of Things
The Internet of Things (IoT) is what makes Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing possible. The Internet of Things is a collection of physical devices all connected to the internet and, in many cases, to each other. Instantaneous data exchange over the internet is present everywhere, from consumer goods like household appliances to entire factory systems.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to its use in smart manufacturing, where a collection of sensors integrates with machines to provide operators and management with up-to-the-minute data on current performance and condition. The most common use of the IIoT is for asset management and tracking, as with inventory systems.
One example of the IIoT in action is the placement of sensors on shelving. These sensors update the database each time an item is lifted off or placed on, providing a continuously updated inventory count. That inventory system can then use the IIoT to guide further decision-making to increase manufacturing process efficiency.
Of the many applications of the IIoT, one of the most beneficial is the ability to weed out inefficiencies to reduce cost. It is widely recognized that merely increasing production speed doesn’t equate to a cost-benefit after a certain threshold. This occurs as the opportunity for additional meaningful improvement is greatly reduced as optimal production speeds are reached. With all the devices of a smart factory connecting through the internet, manufacturers can look at what happens throughout the production process and identify opportunities for other operational improvements across all phases of production.
4. Driverless Vehicles and Drones
There’s a lot of buzz around driverless vehicles in the consumer space, but they are becoming more common in the manufacturing industry as well. Advances in robotics, the IoT, and autonomous navigation have created the perfect circumstances for manufacturers to adopt driverless vehicles and drones in multiple applications.
The most well-known example of autonomous vehicles comes from Amazon. Thousands of autonomous robots assist warehouse workers in moving inventory and fulfilling orders, reducing the time employees have to spend walking back and forth across large facilities. Manufacturers with significant square footage can significantly increase operational efficiency through the use of automated vehicles of various sizes.
Drones represent another opportunity for improving productivity. Like autonomous vehicles, they can be used to ferry materials or items back and forth. They can also provide visual support when a technician needs to get a look at what’s going on with a particular machine, for example. As drone use becomes commonplace, the cost per unit is falling while technological capabilities are increasing.
According to the Association for Unmanned Vehicle Systems International (AUVSI), drones and their related technologies might create up to 100,000 jobs and inject $82 billion into the economy by 2025. Manufacturers who determine efficient uses for drones now will be well-positioned to take advantage of further developments in this particular field of smart manufacturing.
5. 3D Printing
3D printing is a popular term for the more technical process of additive manufacturing. The term “additive manufacturing” covers several types of manufacturing processes that use an additive method to create objects through the consecutive addition of microscopic layers. The contrast is “subtractive manufacturing,” in which material is removed to obtain the end object.
The first advantage is waste reduction. Through the traditional subtractive process, manufacturers are left with a variable amount of material that they must recycle, dispose, or repurpose. All three of these options take time, resources, and labor. With additive 3D printing, machinery dispenses only as much material as is necessary to build the object.
The BMW Group was one of the initial pioneers in the use of 3D printing for smart manufacturing. In 2010, they began producing specific small components. By 2018, the company marked its one-millionth part made through 3D printing. In that year, the company managed to increase its 3D-printed component output by over 40% by combining additive manufacturing with other smart manufacturing practices.
For manufacturers that make products with an element of customization, 3D printing presents an opportunity to provide a personal consumer experience without the associated cost and volume requirements present in traditional manufacturing methods.
6. Robotics and Automation
Robotics has been a staple of manufacturing for decades now, but the rise of Industry 4.0 is providing new possibilities for those who want to leverage technology. Where yesterday’s manufacturing robots were limited to actions like lifting and rotating on assembly lines, modern technology allows robots to carry out complex and sometimes delicate tasks. AI and advanced sensors enable robots to process complicated inputs and act on external information.
While most manufacturers are not using the most advanced robotics due to cost restrictions, automation systems provide many of the benefits at a much more accessible price point. EAM-Mosca Corporation’s ‘Island Automation’ solution is an excellent example of how automation can simplify and improve a non-standard production process.
The Island Automation System was specially developed for a Midwestern power-tool manufacturer who needed a faster solution. They were manually strapping product-filled Point-of-Purchase (POP) displays being distributed to home improvement stores. The process for the POPs included several stations where the products were put on pallets, covered with a corrugated cap, then moved to another area by pallet jacks. Operators then manually fed precut lengths of strapping and secured the loads with hand tools.
As the success of the POP program grew, the manual system became a constraint and hampered the manufacturer’s ability to meet demand, especially during peak holiday periods. To solve this challenge, EAM-Mosca engineered a high-performance strapping system solution. The system incorporated multiple side-seal strapping machines featuring pallet lances, along with modular entry and exit conveyors. To manage a variety of packaging configurations, the system was programmed for precise automated transport and product control. This level of control now ensures that each POP design is secured with the correct number of straps, and that each strap is positioned as specified.
Today, the power tool manufacturer achieves a much higher throughput rate compared to the previous manual process. As an added benefit the employees who were previously occupied doing tedious manual strapping now have been redeployed to other tasks, increasing overall operational productivity.
Smart Equipment by EAM-Mosca Corporation
There is no question that smart manufacturing is the future of the industry, but where can manufacturers benefit from the advancements in Industry 4.0? EAM-Mosca Corporation can help. The company offers a variety of innovative strapping machines designed to simplify the manufacturing process and improve efficiency. With a customer support program that allows manufacturers across all industries to meet productivity goals, EAM-Mosca is ready to show you how strapping system solutions can help maximize your manufacturing process efficiency.
EAM-Mosca Corporation provides high-performance strapping system solutions to a variety of industries, including food, graphic arts, mailing, fulfillment, logistics, corrugated, wood, and other industrial or consumer goods. The company combines innovative equipment with strapping
materials manufactured to maximize machine performance and customer support programs that help customers meet their performance and productivity goals.