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It’s a Journey: Get Smart About Manufacturing

 Brian Papke








 Brian Papke
Mazak Corp.

Whether they realize it or not, many manufacturers already employ some, if not all, of the strategies and technologies necessary to operate as a smart factory. In addition to lean principles, practically every manufacturer has implemented to one degree or another, advanced manufacturing cells and systems—i.e., multitasking, full five-axis machine tools and some level of automation. However, they often lack one key component: full digital integration to achieve free-flow data sharing in terms of process control and operation monitoring.

Those already operating smart factories, Mazak and its iSMART Factory included, continue to increase utilization, increase throughput, eliminate nonvalue-added operations and boost production flexibility and part-machining efficiency.

On the cells and systems side of the smart factory, multitasking/five-axis machine technology is a must. These machines still are evolving, and tomorrow’s multitasking systems will have even more single-setup, done-in-one part-processing capabilities to further increase productivity with less capital equipment.

Every day, OEMs develop new software and accessories that give multitasking machines even more functionality. Multitasking machines now can build whole parts and part features using additive manufacturing processes, then machine those parts complete in subtractive operations. Such advances will continue, and manufacturers can expect that new advancements will dominate many booths, Mazak’s included, at IMTS 2016.

Much like machine tools, automation also is evolving from yesterday’s dedicated systems to those that are more flexible. Increased flexibility lets manufacturers not only combine different operations/types of machine tools all within the same automated cell, but also to process a wider range of part types with it.

The role of automation is fundamental to the smart factory and can be implemented in various levels or degrees. For instance, the combined operations of a multitasking system that allows done-in-one part processing is automation at its simplest form. At higher degrees of automation, those same multitasking machines would include gantry systems, robotics or other loading devices and work with other machines within an automated cell. Whatever the degree of implementation, automation within a smart factory must provide the flexibility to adapt to different types of machine tools and parts.

While multitasking and automation technologies are well entrenched in today’s part production operations, the full digital integration aspect of the smart factory could be considered relatively new, especially within the manufacturing world. Most people would agree that the development of the MTConnect standard open communications protocol was manufacturing’s first real recognition of the digital connectivity concept.

In the smart factory, MTConnect is mandatory. Thanks to The Association of Manufacturing Technology, MTConnect has gained momentum as more companies integrate larger numbers of machines to improve system output. For Mazak’s iSMART Factory, MTConnect works with process support software and provides connectivity and the ability to monitor and then harvest data from all the other machines, cells, devices and processes.

Data could be considered the lifeblood of a smart factory, and to keep it flowing requires sensors that draw it out of machines and other equipment on the factory floor. Sensor technology has advanced to the point where its use can transform anything from automobiles to coffee makers into smart systems.

Unfortunately, full digital integration between manufacturing systems, data storage and the outside world via the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) makes many nervous, mainly those in the IT department. Their biggest concern is cybersecurity.

Within the smart factory, there must exist a system that functions much like a network firewall/filter. For Mazak’s own iSMART Factory operations, the company worked with Cisco Systems to develop just such a system, the SmartBox. Now on the market, it not only protects Mazak’s internal network, but also provides a platform for easy and secure entrance into the IIoT.

As a final and very important note, the smart factory concept can be considered a journey and one implemented in stages. But in the end, it is an all-or-nothing concept. Lean principles, advanced manufacturing cells and systems along with full digital integration woven into the operations must all be in place for a factory to truly be a smart one.

This article was first published in the May 2016 edition of Manufacturing Engineering magazine. Read “It’s a Journey: Get Smart About Manufacturing” as a PDF.  

Published Date : 5/1/2016

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