Smart Manufacturing: Intelligent Efficiency in Industry

Smart manufacturing means different things to different people. It covers a complex territory and can be confusing to grasp, as it has many facets and connections with other technologies. The simplest definition, according to the ACEEE report, “The Energy Savings Potential of Smart Manufacturing,” written by Ethan Rogers is that it’s “the integration of all facets of manufacturing through the use of information and communication technologies (ICT).”

The ultimate aim of smart manufacturing is to integrate all the individual units of an organization, regardless of sophistication, in order to achieve superior control and productivity.

In this dynamic blend, information, technology and human ingenuity have the potential to ignite a rapid manufacturing revolution. Smart manufacturing can fundamentally change how products are invented, manufactured, shipped and sold. And smart manufacturing is not just good for business: According to the ACEEE report, “It will improve worker safety and protect the environment by making zero-emissions, zero-incident manufacturing possible.”

Still, we have a long way to go before smart manufacturing’s potential can be realized. Many technology challenges and market barriers get in the way of implementation. Manufacturing is rife with numerous incompatible devices and proprietary systems. Since integration can be difficult and expensive, the solutions can be hard to justify. Furthermore, integration projects are not usually supportable on energy savings alone, as at this point the energy savings is more of bonus than sole rationale.

It’s not entirely accurate to think of smart manufacturing as automation on steroids. It’s actually way more; because it closes the gaps in connectivity that currently exist between devices, systems, facilities and people. It offers informed decision-making, enabling you to run a process, production line, facility and even an entire company more efficiently.

Smart manufacturing makes energy efficiency possible by incorporating affordable next-generation sensor, control and communication technologies that gather, manage, interpret, communicate and act upon disparate and often large volumes of data to improve device, process, facility or organization performance. Here is a basic breakdown of some of the key aspects of smart manufacturing.

Components of Smart Manufacturing

Devices
Embedding sensors with connectivity allow devices or objects to sense and react to their environments. Tying sensors with software logic enables remote control and monitoring and makes it possible to monitor and analyze constant data feeds. Another key player in smart manufacturing are input/output devices—embedded computing and networking technology built into smart systems and devices that enable remote monitoring and communication with other devices.

Control Systems
Continuous process manufacturing, such as is found in steel mills and chemical plants, depends on distributed control systems control elements distributed throughout the manufacturing process. In the age of smart manufacturing, control systems have evolved to include “security functionality to prevent and predict faults.” The ACEEE report says, “They also store set points, system outputs, and production history in a data historian module. These systems can collect data from more nodes, store greater volumes of data, and perform more complex analyses.” Controllers with embedded logic can have a predictive response similar to a person at the controls.

Communications Networks
Keeping up with all this embedded intelligence requires a new level of communication between devices and operators. Because of the ability of machines to talk to other machines (M2M) without human intervention, this is a viable strategy, not just wishful thinking. Many facilities have chosen to develop software architectures that enable communication between devices across their networks. Also called platforms, they enable control of devices and processes and support other software programs that provide additional functionality.

Management Systems
Enterprise-level resource and asset-management planning systems have become the business-operating backbone of many corporations. However, resource planning is often hindered by a lack of integration with control systems on the factory floor. If the information isn’t tied to data coming from and flowing to the plant floor, important details, such as maintenance schedules, unpredicted downtime, and variability and reliability of raw materials, can’t be accounted for. Thus the information these systems provide to high-level decision-makers is sorely incomplete. The goal is to run management systems for functions at all levels of an organization. A smart manufacturing platform can collect and integrate the information from both software and other types of systems, such as an ISO 50001, and simplify organizational management.

Intelligent Maintenance
Predictive maintenance of production equipment goes a long way toward reducing variable and non-variable costs of production through smart manufacturing. The biggest benefit is the elimination of potential downtime.

All of these components add up to a total transformation of manufacturing as we now know it. When streamlined, they will enable mass customization; reduce waste; and document energy, water and material savings with accuracy and speed. The resulting information can be shared in an actionable format that enables smart decision-making and intelligent management of the entire manufacturing process.

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