Don’t Wait for Standards Before Moving Closer to Smart Manufacturing

The Role of Standards in Smart Manufacturing

Smart Manufacturing is called different things: Manufacturing USA (U.S.), Industrie 4.0 (Germany), China 2025 (China), or Industrie du Futur (France). The UK, Sweden, Japan, Korea and India all have country-specific efforts as well.

What do they have in common? They are all:

  • Creating a vision for Smart Manufacturing
  • Utilizing the power of digitalization to help manufacturers reduce capex, improve time to market, reduce inventory and improve productivity
  • Extending existing standards to realize the vision

The last point is an important distinction: These initiatives are not creating new standards. They are classifying how best to use existing standards.

So that means the groundwork for Smart Manufacturing, Industrie 4.0 and other initiatives is being done in standard developing organizations like IEC, ISO, ISA, IEEE and the OPC Foundation. That’s where the influence starts and leadership takes hold.

This is particularly important as thought leaders prepare for the G20 Digital Economy (or Group of Twenty) in March. This international forum for governments from 20 major economies is host to high-level discussions of policy issues pertaining to, among other things, global economic growth.

On the agenda is digital technology.

Countries and companies around the world are eager to adopt digitalization strategies because it levels the playing field for smaller companies that now can reap the same benefits as bigger companies, and remain globally competitive and relevant.

Manufacturing stands on the brink of a new industrial revolution. While the last revolution was powered by machinery and fossil fuels, this one is driven by unprecedented access to data and advances in technology. See how Smart Manufacturing allows manufacturers to optimize their production and supply networks.

What This Means

If you look only at one country’s initiative you’ll have a limited view of the global movement. You must look at global standards to understand global impact.

So rather than the name of the initiative that differentiates the work, it’s the standards behind that initiative that make the difference.

The Time to Start is Now

For organizations hesitant to start their journey to Smart Manufacturing until new standards are complete, I say: Get started. There’s no reason to wait.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) standards (I4.0) will take decades to come to the ideal state where data flows seamlessly among multi-vendor applications and devices.

But rather than see that as a reason to delay, I see that as a reason to start now.

Industry is slow to adapt to new technologies, mostly because it can take decades to replace existing assets with new, Smart Manufacturing versions. The transition should take place in phases.

Smart Manufacturing is not a moment in time. A good strategy thinks about how to use current standards to facilitate change that matters today – and support future evolution.

Why it Matters

The Connected Enterprise leverages the best of the international standards that define Smart Manufacturing today. National initiatives and industry consortia are monitored and enhanced so The Connected Enterprise will leverage the best of future international standards as they emerge.

That’s going to be important when we talk about another aspect of Smart Manufacturing: speed.

Speed is a challenge for everyone. International standards that support Operations Technology (OT) are mature and can take a few years to evolve. In IT, the timing is more in months. Like apps on your phone, there’s always something new. By the time a standard can form around it, there’s something newer.

Blog: What’s the Right Pace for Adopting New Technology? How companies approach the next revolution in manufacturing depends on their priorities.

Constant Incremental Change

Initiatives need to be agile enough to address emerging trends and technology.

Right now, that’s not the case. Industrie 4.0, for example, plans to release yearly updates on their interfaces and relevant standards, but it is probably five years from describing the requirements for compliant products. That doesn’t seem realistic to me, because we just don’t know what our IT and OT landscape will be in a year, much less five. There are applications in the IT space that will evolve, gain acceptance and become absolute within five years.

It’s smart to continually look for and implement improvements. The goal is to sort through standards, apps and services to find the right ones for right now. And, to constantly assess using a cost-versus benefit analysis. That’s how you determine where you can make the biggest impact for manufacturing – and find the next opportunity for improvement.

Harnessing the Power

In just the last few years I’ve watched industry harness never before seen levels of processing power, mobility and visualization. We can now get any information we need, from anywhere and at anytime.

Standardization is working behind the scenes, and we continue to align The Connected Enterprise with those standards to support the Smart Manufacturing in whatever terms you want to use: Manufacturing USA, Industrie 4.0, China 2025 or Industrie du Futur.

Dave Vasko
Posted March 8, 2017 By Dave Vasko, Director of Advanced Technology, Rockwell Automation
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