Redefining Manufacturing with Digital Transformation

May 13, 2024
As industry confronts the challenges of efficiency, cybersecurity, workforce shortages and the integration of emerging technologies, adopting smart manufacturing practices is emerging as a critical component of success.

Manufacturing environments are going digital by necessity. The process extends beyond mere technological upgrades; it represents a comprehensive rethinking of your processes and business priorities. Integrating digital technologies into your operations enhances efficiency, flexibility, and product quality, laying the groundwork for smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing, an essential component of digital transformation, controls the physical and digital processes within factories and across supply chains. It optimizes supply and demand by transforming how people, processes and technologies operate, helping you make smarter decisions while boosting efficiency and agility. An intensive application of networked, information-based technologies and smart manufacturing ensures that your process information is available across supply chains and equipment life cycles, thereby optimizing manufacturing efficiency.

The benefits of digital transformation in manufacturing include:

  1. Enhanced cybersecurity: Implementing the correct infrastructure protects your important plant assets from cyberattacks.
  2. Improved product quality: Automation allows for batch testing and quality analysis, making it easier to manage recalls. 
  3. Fewer workers on the plant floor: Automated systems help mitigate workforce shortages by reducing the need for human operators. 
  4. Better decisions: Data visibility into equipment and processes supports smarter business decisions, helping you achieve your future goals, including possible expansion. 

Harnessing connectivity and data

Smart manufacturing is only possible through digital transformation, leveraging Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, artificial intelligence (AI) and big data to create a connected ecosystem. This network enables real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, and optimized production processes, giving you a dynamic, responsive, and efficient manufacturing environment that swiftly adapts to market demands and technological advancements.

Following are just a few examples of where we’ve seen these advancements:

  1. Industrial automation: Turns your aging facilities, obsolete systems, or push-button controls into more modern controls. This is often a first step to creating a smarter plant. 
  2. Utility monitoring: Enables real-time energy and water usage oversight, optimizing operational costs and sustainability.
  3. Control loop monitoring: Improves the efficiency and reliability of manufacturing processes through advanced control systems. 
  4. Software-defined networking: Simplifies your network to manage industrial devices and improve security with a deny-all approach. 
  5. Predictive maintenance: Utilizes data to understand and predict maintenance needs and critical events. It’s an advanced step in your digital journey.

However, as plants embrace these technologies, security becomes more paramount in this connected environment. Hackers may attack systems such as industrial control systems and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems connected to your internal networks. Having robust cybersecurity strategies will protect these systems from unauthorized access, data breaches and operational disruptions. To start right with digital transformation, focus on implementing firewalls, intrusion detection systems and network segmentation, as well as thoroughly training your employees on cybersecurity.

Best practices

To successfully transition to smart manufacturing, organizations should consider the following best practices:

  • Conduct a thorough assessment of existing infrastructures and processes to identify enhancement opportunities.
  • Prioritize data security and workforce training to protect digital assets and prepare employees for a digitally transformed environment. Strengthening cybersecurity throughout your facility is crucial in an era of increasing cyber attacks on manufacturers. 
  • Focus on manufacturing execution systems (MES)/enterprise resources planning (ERP) integration for your OT/IT connections. Collaborate with technology experts for guidance and support during the integration process. 
  • Utilize more automation to address workforce and quality challenges. 

Ultimately, digital transformation is not merely a technological upgrade but a strategic approach with smart manufacturing as one result. As an outcome of digital transformation, smart manufacturing plays a crucial role in advancing the manufacturing sector toward a future characterized by innovation and high quality. 

Cary Bandstra is an automation manager at Interstates, a certified member of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA). For more information about Interstates, visit its profile on the Industrial Automation Exchange.

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