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Good News for Smaller Manufacturers

Michael Anderson
By Michael C. Anderson Contributing Lead Editor

Recent advances have made factory optimization better, easier and more cost-effective, according to leadership at Advanced Manufacturing International Inc. (AMI).

In this issue’s discussion of factory-floor optimization, (“Floor Show: To optimize a factory floor, visibility is key” by Karen Haywood Queen), Stephan Biller, CEO of Advanced Manufacturing International Inc. (AMI) points out that larger manufacturing enterprises have been the beneficiaries of smart-manufacturing innovations, while smaller manufacturers have lagged behind.

Why? Optimization tools have been more cost-effective and, thus justifiable, for larger manufacturers because their factories are more complex and such tools are more valuable in more complex situations, Biller noted.

Meanwhile, small to medium manufacturers may not have any infrastructure at all, let alone analytic capability, he said. The challenge is helping smaller manufacturers get tools that are neither too expensive nor too complex to collect the necessary data themselves, Biller said.

“Most software providers have focused on the large companies because that is where they think they can make more money,” Biller said. “That is a market failure.”

But there’s good news for the smaller enterprises: Advances in the past decade have made factory optimization better, easier and more cost-effective, Biller said, citing advances in 5G, improvements in artificial intelligence and machine learning, advances in the Internet of Things, and cheaper storage in the cloud.

One barrier to optimization for smaller, mom-and-pop shops is the concern that optimizing necessarily means investing in all-new Industry-4.0-ready production equipment. Not so, explained AMI VP Larry Megan.

Optimizing a factory floor with mostly legacy equipment and machines is challenging but not impossible, Megan said. Often low-cost sensors can be wired to the machine to collect data—and the cost of these sensors has dropped dramatically, making them a more affordable, realistic choice for small and medium manufacturers.

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