Simply to bundle up diverse business processes and to get them streamlined, with the objective of boosting productivity, enhance competitiveness, safety among workers and to be tech-futuristic ready in approach and to be ready for any eventuality or calamity, foreseen or unforeseen, such as recent pandemic and wildfires.
To accentuate the point, let’s discuss the poll conducted recently by MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solution Association) wherein businesses were asked to pinpoint hurdles stymieing their efforts towards smart manufacturing. As was expected, around 60% of reasons, there was lack of awareness about premium technologies and their benefits and financing constraints too, that made the slope more slippery.
Such reasons hold weight, but to certain extent, as going to involve new technologies in any business vertical, does call for considerable finance and to be supplemented by skilled approach while risks cannot be ignored too. But then, going by the Smart Factory Study conducted recently by Deloitte in joint participation with MAPI (Manufacturers Alliance for Productivity and Innovation), its conclusion lays down that any manufacturing group can easily refine its occupational processes and can seek a mammoth value in their input that can further be elaborated and quantified easily by smart manufacturing initiative and the output-value will invariably be higher than the cost spent in such an initiative and would also overpower risks usually apprehended thereby.
Besides, for a crystal clear analysis, enterprises surveyed were put into two categories, A (49%), which had not planned any smart factory initiative till then and B (51%), which had embraced towering degree of smartness at certain levels. As such, going by the study highlights, A’s graph depicting productivity for period between 2015 to 18, showed a dip by 2.3% every year while smart B category got thrilled by 3.3% against similar time span every year. Undeniably, to its domino effect, B category companies saw a mega 10% boom in production on an average, although, A people could gather only 11% average impact that too, by utilizing factors of production.
Clearly, there is a widespread awareness about the idea of smart manufacturing and going by the words from Paul Wellner, VC and US Industrial Products and Construction Leader at Deloitte, emphasises the point here, “In the study, 86% of manufacturers surveyed believe that within 5 year, smart-manufacturing solutions will be the main driver of competitiveness. This highlights how important smart-manufacturing capabilities will be to enable manufacturers to be competitive in the coming years.”
Even though in 2020 widespread slowdown occurred and pandemic spread major hurdles in smooth supply chain networks and this resulted in apt and sufficient time when smart manufacturing options ought to be explored to stay afloat in the ever flowing pool of healthy competition. As a matter of widely acknowledged fact, Deloitte and MAPI again collaborated for study, known as Accelerating Smart Manufacturing, that is released in October 2020 showing that manufacturers embrace smart technologies in manufacturing and would continue to do in advancing years as well.
Mr. Wellner drops in, ”Executives shared examples of installing computer-vision systems to enable virtual plant tours for customers, adding wearable devices for line workers to signal when they cross into a coworker’s 6-feet personal space and even quickly adding cobots to augment the workforce, as workers can’t be shoulder-to-shoulder on the line any longer”.
Not mincing words, a business enterprise can draw a lot of prime benefits, by the virtue of smart manufacturing, in terms of optimum utilization of key business resources, workforce training can be refined with safety ensured, occupational agility and considering the statement made by MESA knowledge Committee chairperson Khris Kammer, things get clearer, “They could do that only because they had the agility to introduce a new product into their manufacturing environment very quickly and retool, retrain and execute in a very rapid fashion.”
Likewise, corporations can also slide into the premium “mass customization” practice, i.e. producing high-variability products but in low volume as specific demand from narrow customer base. As such, a novel business model is encouraged, known as “lot size one” products. Mr. Khammer goes on to add, “Then, instead of getting squeezed by the supply chain, you end up driving some of the innovation in the supply chain, which is exciting”.
Trailing the similar fashion, another business model has ushered onto the forefront which is MaaS (Manufacturing As A Service), whereby supply chain is re-structured to be more resilient and robust enough to withstand any disruptions like we saw in 2020.
MaaS is also looked at as on-demand manufacturing, wherein suppliers’ demand and preference is considered in manufacturing and at this point, Machine Learning technology is being heavily relied upon to have a close-up match between manufacturer and customers.
Smart Manufacturing Casts A Deep Impact On Sustainability:
As mentioned above, smart manufacturing technologies paves way for optimum utilization of resources, and let’s begin the thread by mentioning about Simulation Software by which large quantity of physical waste is made to be reduced drastically when we carry out tests that are otherwise physical in nature, into premier virtual and simulated framework. Further, we are empowered to carry out comfortable prediction of durability aspect and possible duration certain material would last and we can also perform test specific material for selected end items. All of this, while affecting the planet minimally.
In a significant development and flying along the spirit of sustainability, (please watch the video below), Smart Factory @ Wichita is developed and which would resume operations this year onwards, as a result of joint efforts out by Wichita State University and Deloitte. At the smart location, there is housed futuristic manufacturing set-up comprising 3D printing, robotic structures, 3D laser scanners, AR/VR gadgets, high-end simulation and visualization software and so much more, in real but which appear surreal.
In grander scheme of things, the building is said to be a net-zero one built on smart grid and underlying effort is to showcase the abounding influence of advanced technology on sustainability but for the better, when operations are streamlined and impact is minimized.
Scores of flag-bearers of Industry 4.0 such as Bernard Marr & Co are deeply soaked in hope while thinking about the hidden potential that is designed in such technologies. Their rightful claim is that if used in managed way, sustainability goals can be managed in proper way.
Winds Of Transition, Slow But Steady To Smart Manufacturing:
MESA released a White Paper in 2016, with the title “Smart Manufacturing- The Landscape Explained” by which a call is made to declare industry standards to bring data and communication protocols to align smart-manufacturing machines and software with the concept of inter-operatibility. There are similar voices from various quarters, in favour of such a system for the major sake of swift transition to Industry 4.0.
Besides, a handful of manufacturers also fear the breach of data and intellectual property and even their theft, if they decide to be a part of smart manufacturing process and therefore, cyber security and data protection also tilt in the list of priorities. However, there is a popular sentiment that such challenges will eventually fade away as the smart manufacturing would evolve in future on the back of cutting-edge technology. Mr. Kammer expresses hope, “Out of adversity often comes ingenuity and progress. There are a lot of visionaries really trying to take hold of some of these enabling technologies to do things that they’ve never been able to do, like going from ideation and design to the fruition of a product faster than ever. I think from the combination of the newer technology and necessity, you are going to see some great things”.