Time for Small Manufacturers to Embrace Smart Manufacturing
Smart Manufacturing, Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, Digital Manufacturing — These buzzwords keep popping up to describe the future of manufacturing. But for many small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs), they are just buzzwords. Many American SMMs are too busy filling orders and shipping product to worry much about the “distant future”. Yet, the Smart Manufacturing future is coming faster than many companies think…or are prepared for.
Smart manufacturing is not new. Manufacturers have been implementing smart technologies over the last two decades. What has changed is the wide availability of cost-effective networking, data processing, modeling, and visualization technologies. The pace of change has increased.
To get beyond the buzzwords and help SMMs prepare, MForesight: Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight released its latest report, Smart Manufacturing: A Primer for Small Manufacturers. The report describes the key smart manufacturing technologies available to SMMs including 3D printing; Robotics; Sensors, Augmented/Virtual/Extended Reality; Data capture and analytics; Artificial/Machine intelligence; Blockchain; Cloud and edge computing; and Cybersecurity
Each short description highlights the essential aspects of the technologies, reviews lessons learned by companies that have already begun implementation, use cases, and examples of products and vendors, with clickable links. The report makes it easy to understand how these technologies are used in small shops and to find more information.
Key Takeaways from MForesight’s analysis include:
- Smart manufacturing technologies will transform manufacturing, affecting quality and productivity, relationships across supply chains, skill requirements, and investment decisions. The pace of change will vary somewhat across industries and market segments, but small and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) are not immune to the changes.
- Smart manufacturing can reduce scrap and rework, minimize work-in-process, eliminate production bottlenecks and improve equipment efficiency, speed new product introductions, and allow more product customization and variety, while reducing costs and potentially raising profitability.
- SMMs cannot afford to remain on the sidelines. Smart manufacturing is already disrupting supply chains.
- Smart manufacturing is not accomplished simply by adding new production technologies to existing factories. Buying new equipment without a clear strategy and objectives will be a waste of money.
- Effective cybersecurity practices are absolutely essential.
- Get help. Resources are available at local universities and MEPs that can help SMMs evaluate appropriate technologies, set strategy and define objectives, train workers, and work through implementation, including cybersecurity.
- Get started. Waiting will not provide any advantage but will increase risks that competitors, or even customers, will take your business.
- Effective implementation of smart manufacturing technologies requires cultural change within the company, including buy-in from production workers, supervisors and senior management. Starting on small pilot projects and demonstrating the benefits is the first step.
The report is available at MForesight: Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight.