Smart manufacturing seems to have the whole world's attention right now. Government leaders from countries such as Germany, France, the United Kingdom, India, China, and the U.S. are banking on smart manufacturing's potential to strengthen their manufacturing industries and their economies with an infusion of advanced information technologies (IT) and a 21st-century business mindset.
This infusion is coming from a proliferation of inexpensive, intelligent, connected devices and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), along with cost-effective cloud data storage and plus analytics tools capable of finding and predicting opportunities and threats across the globe. This change is forcing manufacturers to run their operations as digital enterprises, which are designed to monitor in real-time.
These breakthrough technologies, whether positioned as smart manufacturing, Industrie 4.0, the IIoT, or by other names, are poised to unleash innovation and give companies tools and intelligence not previously possible at the manufacturing operations level, across the global enterprise and in the delivery of new, smart products and services. Couple them with a 21st-century entrepreneurial mindset that sees no boundaries and instinctively collaborative, and there is a recipe for driving real, powerful change in manufacturing.
Who should care about smart manufacturing
Shareholders care because it matters to the bottom line. The speed of business continues to increase in the digital global economy. Companies need to be agile and able to respond to the latest development coming around the corner.
Customers care because they want more for less. "Customer fulfillment" no longer means shipping what the customer ordered. Now it means whether what they ordered is really what they want. If it's not, what changes do they want, and how quickly can they be made?
Employees care because they want the tools to do what they do better, and future employees will care because the next generation of workers will bring technology with them—in their pockets, on their wrists, and engrained in how they live and work.
Even competitors care. Many companies from big to small are working to digitize their value chain in the next few years, which means they're not sitting still.
These factors point to a new audience that's engaged in the smart manufacturing discussion. No longer is it just engineering, quality, and maintenance departments looking to bolster operations with advanced information technologies. Business leaders are engaging and need and want answers. Smart manufacturing transforms the entire company and must be part of the company's agenda from the CEO down.
Getting ahead of the curve
The good news for manufacturing leaders is that the most important ingredient for smart manufacturing success is something they already possess: leadership.
Manufacturing leaders and practitioners cannot miss today's opportunity to forge a path forward together. Business leaders are looking for innovative ways to move their businesses forward and build a sustainable competitive advantage. Plant teams are looking to show executive leaders that manufacturing is worth investing in. There hasn't been a recent catalyst bringing these actors together more directly than smart manufacturing has the opportunity to do.
Smart manufacturing can give manufacturers tools and approaches to unlock innovation in their plants and across their businesses like never before. However, technology is only part of the story. The other part comes from business leaders investing in people and tackling new challenges.
The workforce of the future will bring their technology with them and obliterate many of these challenges. This will help open the door to realizing the value smart manufacturing espouses. A strong leadership commitment to an IT-enabled future and deliberate steps to communicate and deliver on that future is what's needed right now.
Smart manufacturing has the ability to make anything, anywhere, anytime. The products are safe. The manufacturing is environmentally safe and socially responsible. It's low cost and high value. It gives the customer what they want, when they want it, and the way they want it.
That's what the smart manufacturing revolution is all about. It's about making manufacturing better than it has ever been. And it's going to keep getting better for a long time.
The future of manufacturing
One hundred and fifty years ago, manufacturing was changing the world with the industrial revolution. Fifty years ago, manufacturing was still barely holding its own. Twenty-five years ago, manufacturing was washed up and on the way out. A dinosaur from a bygone era.
Today, manufacturing is surging as a huge new economic powerhouse. It's being transformed down to its very soul.
That transformation is because of smart manufacturing and the technologies behind the Internet, which are transforming every single aspect of manufacturing. Everything is changing. Nothing is off-limits. And it's all making manufacturing the new economic powerhouse of the 21st century.
This post was written by John Clemons. John is the director of manufacturing IT at Maverick Technologies, a leading automation solutions provider offering industrial automation, strategic manufacturing, and enterprise integration services for the process industries. Maverick delivers expertise and consulting in a wide variety of areas including industrial automation controls, distributed control systems, manufacturing execution systems, operational strategy, business process optimization and more.
Maverick Technologies is a CSIA member as of 8/11/2016.