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Savvy systems open door to extreme customization

Brett Brune
By Brett Brune Editor in Chief, Smart Manufacturing

New systems, software and processes are replacing so-called islands of automation with seamless, automated manufacturing lines that boost overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) from 30 to 80% or more. Like a chess master, these systems think multiple moves ahead on the factory floor to ensure continuing production when circumstances change. These systems cut scrap, improve quality, improve throughput and—the pièce de résistance—open the door to extreme customization a.k.a. the “Order of One” and “Batch Size 1.”

Automated processes include pallet handling, bending and insertion, measuring and assembly transportation. These emerging systems for production-integrated quality assurance (QA) also can disrupt the manufacturing-distribution system by enabling factories to ship these “orders of one” directly to customers.

On top of that, unlike previous automation that scaled mainly for major manufacturers, these emerging systems also work well for small and general-purpose shops.

So Batch Size 1 really has arrived—for all.

We chose to announce the dawn of this new day with a customizable cover for the May issue of Smart Manufacturing. Paper lovers who prefer one of the three alternative covers published inside this issue can take matters into their own hands, using a scissors. Digital devotees in May will be able to go to to select a cover, using their mouse or mousepad.

In our May cover story, “To each his own,” you’ll read about a three-man shop in Minnesota where the owner increased gross production output by 60% by adding a robotic cell.

Some systems tout ROI of 6–12 months. And some see it during the demo process.

Some systems save a lot of hassle—by looking ahead and letting operators know if they have everything not just for the current job but also for projects several weeks out.

It is now standard operating procedure at one firm included in the story—B&R—to make automation PCs in Batch Size One with custom branding and other features distinct to each customer. This allows the company’s PCs to become “plug and play.”

Need to see it to believe it? Go to to see B&R achieving extreme customization.

B&R was a market leader. Now, the industry has reached critical mass when it comes to mass customization.

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