Smart Manufacturing and the Need for Speed

Aug. 14, 2020
Everything about smart manufacturing is related to data. It is the spark to the smart technologies’ accelerant. The Internet of Things, Big Data, analytics, and the cloud give people and machines faster access to the data they need to run their business b

No matter how dazzling a new technology seems, it’s meaningless if you aren’t using it to solve a business problem. That’s why it’s so important to begin with the business in mind as you decide which technologies to deploy, what you want the technologies to do, and how you want them to help you achieve your business goals.

This is critical when creating a smart manufacturing strategy, where the risk of being overwhelmed by the possibilities, and the tendency to overthink or delay projects, is high. There are two specific elements of smart manufacturing: the data and “the now,” which combine to serve a specific business objective—the need for speed.

This is intended to jolt executives from traditional thinking so you can get your mind around a topic that can often seem too abstract. Thinking through how smart manufacturing characteristics can help achieve specific business objectives will help executives identify the smart manufacturing strategy that will transform your business.

Right data, right place, right time
Perhaps the most celebrated benefit of smart manufacturing is its ability to increase the velocity of business. Deployed effectively, it speeds up decision-making, production, innovation, and just about every other aspect of business.

A smart manufacturing strategy designed for speed starts with how your company leverages data throughout every aspect of the business.

In the factory it includes:

  • Reporting machine data for predictive maintenance, to eliminate unplanned downtime;
  • Delivering real-time quality data so production employees can immediately address variances; and
  • Automatically collecting and storing regulatory data so it’s available when the auditors are ready to review it.
  • For executive decision makers, it includes:
  • Early warning of a slow-down in the delivery of an important component or raw material so an alternate source can quickly be arranged;
  • Identifying an unexpected change in product demand so appropriate changes in production can be implemented; and
  • Getting real-time notice of customer comments on social media to head off bad, or capitalize on good, publicity.
  • For production equipment it includes:
  • Using machine vision to inspect products and divert those that are out-of-spec to a different line;
  • Alerting an automated vehicle to pick up work-in-progress or finished goods for transport to the next location; and
  • Electronically delivering machine set-up information to the operator.

In each case, only the necessary data is delivered to where it needs to be for prompt action.

Actionable data

Critical to a smart manufacturing strategy that drives speed is building a system where data is actionable. Traditionally, business leaders would gather a quantity of data over a period of time, then have a meeting to review and decide what to do. Smart manufacturing makes such an approach obsolete.

Ultimately, the data needs to be visual, through human-machine interfaces and dashboards. This allows people, whether plant floor machine operators or executives, to use data in real time.

Making data actionable applies as much to not getting the data you don’t need. The tools need to be smart enough to learn what’s truly actionable and give the right data to the right people when that action is needed. If no action is needed, they don’t need to see the data.

Data, knowledge, wisdom
When you have only the data you need when you need it, you can spend more time strategizing on your next business move. Freed from the time-consuming drudgery of gathering and analyzing data, and sorting the wheat from the chaff, you spend more time gleaning business insights.

There’s a big difference between ineffectively collecting data and making the shift to data intelligence. Thirty years of sensors in factories have done little to affect decision making at the corporate headquarters, yet a half-dozen cheap sensors on a smart phone essentially changed all aspects of our daily lives.

As you create your smart manufacturing strategy, it’s important to remember that data is the means to an end, not the end. With increased access to real-time data, which will drive faster decisions, comes a further responsibility—using the data effectively to transform your business. It’s not just about the technology, it’s about how you use it.

Thinking in the now
Whether it’s data or decisions, the smart manufacturing characteristic of “now” speaks to the immediacy with which all this gets done. Remember when your stock market service offered pricing updates with a 30-minute delay? That’s now unacceptable. The same logic applies to running a manufacturing business: Data must be available now, in real time, and the decisions made from it must be made now, in real time. That’s what your customer, in the age of smart manufacturing, demands.

To start or take the next step in your smart manufacturing journey, don’t begin with the technology (e.g., with whether you should move to the cloud or start adding sensors to equipment). Think first about the business issue you need to address, then use smart manufacturing technologies to address it. One way is to think about how increasing the availability and use of real-time data will address your business’s need for speed.

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