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Converging Technologies Help Build Smart Manufacturing

Debbie Holton
By Debbie Holton Vice President, Events & Industry Strategy, SME

In millions of homes, these phrases are heard every day: “Alexa, play ‘I Love Rock n’ Roll’, turn on the lights, what’s the weather outside?” The age of the connected home is here. Many of us are already using smart devices for at least one of our legacy home standalone systems, such as our HVAC, lighting, security, entertainment or appliances. And implementation is growing as more retrofit devices are available, like smart plugs, smart switches and video doorbells.

Our CEO recently made his stereo ”smart” with a $10 connector. The Internet of Things (IoT) is making our lives easier. We’re now seeing increased smart home IoT integration, with smart hubs enabling smart device connectivity. Via mobile technology, we can see who’s at the door, adjust the temperature and even watch our dogs while we’re away.

Increased network bandwidths, widespread mobile technology, falling prices, and increased capabilities of sensors and wireless networks have enabled objects in the home to talk with each other and fetch data from outside sources. Consumers are now eager to experience the smart home.

Scaling up from the smart home, IoT and IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) technologies are adding value for facility managers, helping them move beyond cost reduction to overall performance optimization. IIoT applications using sensors to collect information about operating conditions, combined with cloud-hosted analytics software, will improve building management, grow margins and enable predictive maintenance.

Manufacturers are adopting these technologies and need more support as they transition into the Fourth Industrial Revolution. SME recently partnered with Al Sanders, PhD, president and owner of Design-Vantage Technologies LLC, to launch a study on smart manufacturing. The goal was to provide manufacturers with a simple, holistic, systems-based framework to create their own roadmaps for the smart journey and to invest in the right technologies and solutions.

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Woman at home using smart home app on her cell phone.

“One of the misbeliefs people have is that you’d have to shut down your factories, gut everything and put all new equipment in. To the contrary, smart solutions are customizable to fit your existing workspace and you can enhance productivity by [integrating] a robust new IIoT infrastructure with existing OT solutions,” said Sanders. “It’s all about retrofitting existing manufacturing operations with IIoT-enabled devices that add an additional layer of data capture and intelligence.”

Industry 4.0 is all about “cyber-physical systems”—smart factories making intelligent products with the use of connected machines. The first step is for manufacturers to consider goals—increased efficiency, improved quality, faster cycle times—and then determine what data they need to measure to achieve them. Smart is about replacing waste with data, and access to previously unobtainable data is at the heart of new smart systems. Capturing the right data and turning it into actionable information is the key to success.

The next step is to evaluate your IT infrastructure and ensure that it’s secure. Effective cybersecurity measures are a must. Then, examine how you can leverage advances in IIoT sensors to capture data around your biggest pain points. Maybe you’re manufacturing composites in Florida, and the heat and humidity in your factory are essential measurements. Low-cost, accurate sensors are the first step to gathering this data and evaluating your processes.

Smart systems will revolutionize manufacturing, and while the road to developing them may seem daunting, companies that adopt these technologies will quickly eclipse the ones that don’t. Start with a strategy that involves no technology at all, just your knowledge. Where are your pain points? Where are the growth opportunities that you’d like to scale? Identify key metrics and start collecting data on them. Then, create a framework and map it out. That will be your starting point for using smart manufacturing technologies that make data secure, meaningful and actionable.

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