Manufacturing stands on the brink of a new industrial revolution. While the last revolution was powered by machinery and fossil fuels, this one is driven by unprecedented access to data and advances in technology otherwise known as Smart Manufacturing.
Smart Manufacturing allows manufacturers to optimize their production and supply networks and aims to take advantage of advanced information and manufacturing technologies. There is increased workforce training required for such flexibility and use of the technology rather than specific tasks as is customary in traditional manufacturing environments.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a core component of this industrial transformation that is happening across the globe, including Industry 4.0 (with its fourth industrial revolution) and the Industrial Internet (with the Industrial Internet Consortium).
To manage the growing and ever-increasing need for connectivity on the production floor, smart manufacturing utilizes big data analytics to refine complicated processes and manage supply chains. This in turn allows an enterprise to use smart manufacturing to shift from reactionary practices to predictive ones, a change that targets improved efficiency of the process and performance of the product or services they provide.
It is impossible to discuss smart manufacturing without discussing robotics, also known as smart machines, that operate autonomously and can communicate directly with manufacturing systems. By evaluating sensory input and distinguishing between different product configurations, these machines are able to solve problems and make decisions independent of people. These robots are able to complete work beyond what they were initially programmed to do and have artificial intelligence that allows them to learn from experience (source: Industry Week article). These machines have the flexibility to be reconfigured and re-purposed. This gives them the ability to respond rapidly to design changes and innovation, which is a competitive advantage over more traditional manufacturing processes (reference NIST). An area of concern surrounding advanced robotics is the safety and well-being of the human workers who interact with robotic systems. Traditionally, measures have been taken to segregate robots from the human workforce, but advances in robotic cognitive ability have opened up opportunities, such as cobots, for robots to work collaboratively with people.
Smart manufacturing leverages the capabilities of the internet, giving enterprise manufacturers the ability to increase integration and data storage. Employing cloud software allows companies access to highly configurable computing resources. This allows for servers, networks and other storage applications to be created and released at a rapid pace. Enterprise integration platforms allow the manufacturer to collect data broadcast from its machines, which can track metrics such as work flow and machine history. Open communication between manufacturing devices and networks can also be achieved through internet connectivity. This encompasses everything from tablets to machine automation sensors and allows for machines to adjust their processes based on input from external devices (source: Industry Week article).
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