Even just two years ago, it was hard to imagine how the Internet of Things would completely transform so much of the supply chain. However, the industry is radically changing. Indeed, this change is so enormous, so radical that it’s even being coined ‘The Fourth Industrial Revolution”. This term embraces the concept that the Internet of Things, is so all-invasive to industry, and happening with such immense speed, that it literally is at revolutionary levels.
Manufacturing is at the core of this change. Smart manufacturing is transforming our supply chains. The Internet of Things is allowing us to access big data, and importantly, to use it. It’s all about analytics, robotics, and artificial intelligence. It isn’t just happening in the Sci-Fi movies, but actually causing seismic shifts in manufacturing.
What is Smart Manufacturing?
Smart manufacturing is all about getting computers and technology to do what we, as humble humans, can’t, on the scale that we need it. Whilst we’re familiar with manufacturing as a multi-step process involving raw materials through to finished goods, smart manufacturing is about how to do that better, more efficiently, and more responsively. It’s about using data and technology to make manufacturing more dynamic and agile.
It’s not simply about knowledge (acquiring data), but actively how to take advantage of that knowledge and utilise it within the physical manufacturing process. In many ways, it’s putting computers and technology in control where once humans made the decisions.
This brings increased accuracy, speed and efficiency to an otherwise cumbersome process. At its heart is optimisation and sophistication by using valuable insight, only made possible by the Internet of Things.
What is also paramount to understanding the Internet of Things and smart manufacturing, is its real time nature. You’re not just getting insights and data from different stages on the factory floor, and elsewhere in the supply chain, but you’re getting it right away. This means decisions can be taken swiftly in response. Problems cannot compound in the same way as lack of visibility allows. Think of it as a virtual tracking process whereby you know what every element is doing at every moment.
For those within the supply chain, smart manufacturing is big news. Not only does it stand to take efficiency to the next level, it also stands to improve quality and consistency throughout the manufacturing process, as well as reducing overall costs. It also stands to radically change our ability to synchronise supply and demand, without constraining demand.
The Internet of Things in Manufacturing
Manufacturing is ripe territory to benefit from the Internet of Things. The machine learning that the Internet of Things facilitates through sensor use, insights and automation, becomes even more effective when utilised on a mass scale, such as in the manufacturing environment. It’s not about replacing humans in all areas of decision making, but it is about realising that technology can be faster and more accurate at processing data and spotting links.
Whereas the reality of this was, only a short while ago, financially out of the reach of most of those in manufacturing, the ability, cost-wise, to utilise the Internet of Things in manufacturing is now becoming much more affordable and realistic. Smart technology costs less, and is far more mainstream, than just a short while ago.
The early adopters were big names such as Siemens and Bosch, as well as many of the car giants. Siemens, for example, had computers handling 75% of their value chain autonomously back in 2015. This is as to be expected. Larger manufacturers had the resources to lead the way. But it’s no longer just the big names. Now everyone involved in manufacturing has to embrace smart manufacturing or risk being pushed off the playing field.
The Internet of Things and Visibility
Visibility is a primary goal of those involved in manufacturing. Visibility allows decisions to be made accurately, at the right time, in the right way. However, manufacturing has traditionally been a somewhat slow and cumbersome beast. If the data to make the decisions can now be delivered to palm-held smartphones, then the control is being taken directly to where it is needed.
Think of it on an individual manufacturing plant level. The potential is huge. Not only can the Internet of Things dictate what and how to manufacture goods, it can also sense and predict problems in the manufacturing process itself. This visibility means that each and every unit of production is visible at every point in the journey. Whereas not so long ago we considered batch level visibility to be the Holy Grail, now we’re talking unit level visibility.
Smart Manufacturing in 2017
Strangely though, getting the data on smart manufacturing in 2017 is tough. It seems researchers simply can’t keep pace with the rate of change. However, BI Intelligence, part of Business Insider, have stated “expect the installed base of manufacturing Internet of Things devices to swell from 237 million in 2015 to 923 million in 2020.” The Internet of Things, and smart manufacturing, aren’t just a stepping stone to the future, they are massively shaping, and dictating, it.
As the Internet of Things and smart technology are increasingly adopted by manufacturing, those who don’t make the leap will simply be left behind. In just a short while, those who shun the changes technology is bringing to manufacturing simply won’t be able to compete. If smart manufacturing isn’t embraced then decisions will be poor in comparison.
Not only did SCM World point out, in 2015, that one in five factory operations aren’t even online, but they also identified findings in their research about smart manufacturing that are too powerful to ignore. They reported: “Smart manufacturing is expected to increase OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) by 16 percentage points, improve quality and unplanned downtime by nearly 50%, increase inventory turns by nearly 35%, reduce new product introduction cycle times by over 23% and reduce energy costs by 17.5%”. You cannot ignore the pervasive power of smart manufacturing.