When learning about something new, there are four key questions that intuitively come to mind:
- What am I learning about?
- Why should I care about it?
- Where should I start to increase and, subsequently, increase my knowledge?
- Who should I trust as a credible expert on this subject?
When the subject is something as complex and critical as Smart Manufacturing, slight variations of these questions are extremely important—especially if you are a manufacturer who needs to know what is at stake in terms of keeping your business profitable and competitive. Let’s look at each one:
What is Smart Manufacturing?
Here is a simple definition: “Smart Manufacturing is characterized by intelligent, agile, information-driven factories able to respond rapidly to change based upon connected networks and data analytics.”
As a manufacturing business owner or manager, it is easy to get confused and/or frustrated by all of the industry lingo and media hype over terms such as industry 4.0, industrial internet of things (IIoT), digital transformation, etc. Collaborative robots, augmented reality, cloud computing, ERP/MES software, digital simulation, big data analytics and other sound bites all get headlines, but the implementation of advanced factory automation and information technology solutions should not considered as the end, but rather a means to the end of creating value for your business.
Why should you care about Smart Manufacturing?
Improving manufacturing operations management is still very much grounded in the basics of production yield, first time quality, process reliability, manufacturing flexibility and other capabilities that will deliver more value to a manufacturing business. If the benefits of implementing an ERP, MES or cloud computing network are not explicitly obvious, then why should you care about investing in them?
There are several key benefits that can be realized by focusing on building your Smart Manufacturing capabilities:
Eliminating Data Overload – You likely recognize that massive amounts of data are available, but it just takes too much time to sort through it to find what you need, when you need it. This condition is often known as DRIP: “Data rich but information poor.”
If this is the case for you, you may feel frustrated and try to “shortcut” decisions based on gut instinct or by using the limited information you do have available. This may help to save time in the short-term, but it’s not going to help you improve your operational efficiency or ROI in the future. With a sound Smart Manufacturing strategy you can eliminate this problem.
Breaking Down Information Silos – A related problem to having a data DRIP at your facility, is having information silos, also known as having significant amounts of useful information available, but trapped inside fragmented departments, applications, or “silos” on the plant floor and in the front office. This condition results in ineffective problem analysis and slow decision making—which can be remedied with the right Smart Manufacturing approach and solutions.
Access to Real-Time Data – Looking at aged data is not helpful if you’re trying to improve your current operations. Historical data is useful for certain analysis, but real-time, immediate data flows—the kind that advanced manufacturing solutions deliver—is what you need to drive value throughout your facility.
Improved Data Accuracy – Bad data is worse than no data. The reporting of inaccurate data will, understandably, lead to a lack of user confidence in the information provided. If the data you are getting can’t be trusted, it is a risk to your organization not a benefit because you can’t use it to make informed decisions or solve problems. Having the right Smart Manufacturing roadmap will allow you to have the data integrity you need to move your organization forward.
Where should you start?
Implementing Smart Manufacturing principles and plans should be looked at as a journey, not a project. Information is now on par with people, process and technology as a strategic asset to be leveraged in order to create business value. This pursuit of creating new value based upon information flow can be thought of as the 4th journey for many manufacturers, beyond those which: 1. Drive organizational cultures of change; 2. Create a continuous improvement mindset (e.g., lean practices) and 3. Create an initial investment in factory automation technology to improve cycle time, quality, flexibility and other value drivers.
While these three journeys must continue, the next value creation journey to initiate is Smart Manufacturing and the strategic asset to leverage is information flow and data analytics.
Who should you trust?
Many manufacturers are behind the curve when it comes to creating a roadmap for building their Smart Manufacturing capabilities. If your business is to remain profitable and competitive, now is the time to start developing your Smart Manufacturing strategy and find the guidance you need to achieve success.
Avoid the Trap of Being “Locked In” to Smart Manufacturing Solutions
It is important that your organizations becomes knowledgeable enough of Smart Manufacturing to avoid being “sold” or “locked in” to vendors’ proprietary technology or software solutions. Implementing “one-off” solutions may ea
se a specific pain in the short term, but will often cause larger, chronic problems for your business over time due to the fragmented nature of your Smart Manufacturing infrastructure and inability to truly achieve maximum value from the investments you make on your journey.
At Connected Factory Global, we are your buyer’s agents. We represent you, the manufacturer—independent from Smart Manufacturing solution vendors. Our goal is to help you develop a Smart Manufacturing Roadmap which identifie
s the optimal value creation opportunities by highlighting the implicit Information Value Loops representing the data flow through your factory floor and front office. We align these opportunities with your organization’s resources, bandwidth and other constraints, focusing on building the problem-solving and decision-making capabilities that are grounded in real-time, closed loop information flows.
Once you have your Smart Manufacturing Roadmap we then help you progress with technology selection using RFI, RFP or other services as needed.
Connected Factory Global is uniquely positioned to help your manufacturing business start and progress on its Smart Manufacturing journey by objectively assessing where you are today, what your futu
re goals should be, which best-in-class solutions are based on your needs, and how do you get to where you need to be.
Are you ready to start your Smart Manufacturing Journey by answering the four key questions? Let Connected Factory Global help—contact us today.