Why Can’t Smart Manufacturing Be Simple?

In the News
August 29, 2017

Manufacturing as we know it is changing more quickly than ever. We’re in the midst of a perfect storm of technological opportunity within the industry, with increased demand for manufactured goods, a reduced workforce of available labor to meet that need, and an influx of exciting new smart manufacturing advancements that are making robots more affordable and flexible than ever before.

That said, with all the 21st century technology advancements being introduced throughout the shop floor, most manufacturing processes are still being run by 20th century machines. And it’s easy to see why. Quite simply, they work – and the time and cost implications of replacing them are substantial.

Barriers to Smart Manufacturing

Cloud computing and IoT have been buzz words in the technology arena for years, and they’ve recently become popularized by discussions on smart manufacturing in the industrial space as well. Yet for most companies, they remain nothing more than futuristic concepts, because introducing these technologies on the factory floor typically requires significant changes to their current equipment, staff and processes. But that limitation is changing, thanks to a much simpler approach than you might think.

The concept of smart manufacturing encompasses many things, but it’s founded in the principle of increasing production flexibility and responsiveness to meet today’s growing need for on-demand manufacturing. A key aspect of enabling smart manufacturing is the ability to increase connectivity – between technologies, processes and people. But establishing that connectivity has been, to this point, a limiting factor for most companies looking to implement it in the short term.

Historically, most discussions about smart manufacturing begin with the assumption that production machines are either replaced altogether or retrofitted in some way that enables them to be connected – either via additional sensors, an external controller, or some other form of integration. Once connected, machines then need some sort of common “language” that allows those connections to be meaningful – to each other and to their operators.

Tremendous amounts of time and development dollars have been devoted to the pursuit of these concepts. We are clearly making exciting progress toward that goal, but much still needs to be done before most companies (particularly SMBs) are able to implement a practical smart manufacturing solution, given the high cost and extensive integration required for most new or retrofitted systems... 

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