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Smart Manufacturing – The Next Industrial Revolution

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On Dec. 1, 1913, Henry Ford launched the first moving assembly line for the mass production of an entire automobile. Although Ford gets great credit, few people know the key role that the first electric motor controls played in making it possible.

In 1900, 95 percent of all factory machines were still driven by steam engines. These factory machines had to be located close to a large central steam engine for the belts and shafts to function properly – thus making a long assembly line virtually impossible. But by using a series of many smaller electric motors, Ford's engineers discovered the way to drive lengthy conveyor belts that are essential to make an assembly line move. By the 1920s, electric motors had also begun driving half of the factory machines in America. Rockwell Automation has a deep understanding of this historic shift from steam engine to electric motor-driven factories because our founders invented the first electric motor control in 1903.

One hundred years later, Ford Motor Company is again helping pioneer the next major industrial revolution of Smart Manufacturing. Ford CEO Alan Mulally recently hosted about 100 top industry leaders at a Smart Manufacturing Summit organized by Chief Executive Magazine. Highlighting the two-day event was a tour of Ford's new award-winning Michigan Assembly plant. This innovative flexible factory is the world's only plant to build gasoline powered, electric, hybrid and plug-in hybrid vehicles all on the same production line.

Once again, Rockwell Automation's technologies are at work behind-the-scenes providing key components to make this next industrial revolution of smart manufacturing possible at Ford's Michigan Assembly Plant. These range from the latest intelligent motor controls to sophisticated Production Center software.

The “smart” in smart manufacturing is a highly connected, knowledge-enabled industrial enterprise. In this enterprise, all business and operating actions are optimized to achieve enhanced productivity, sustainability and economic performance.

Enterprises that embrace smart manufacturing are flexible, agile and efficient. They are responsive, collaborative and lean. They are safe, predictive and above all, sustainable.

This doesn't happen by accident. These organizations follow a roadmap of technology, talent and infrastructure that combines secure communications, manufacturing intelligence, big data, cloud computing, modeling and simulation, energy management and sustainability, and lifecycle productivity.

For decades, the quality movement pushed us to new heights and past old limits. We made better products using better and more efficient processes. But now, that methodology is not enough. Smart manufacturing is about accelerating production performance such as using new big data driven tools. A connected enterprise makes faster, and better, decisions. Optimizing plants, optimizing supply networks, those actions lead to faster time to market, lower total cost of ownership, improved asset utilization and better risk management.

When our CEO Keith Nosbusch joined other industry leaders at the Smart Manufacturing Summit, the buzz was about the future, especially this integration of automation and information technologies in manufacturing.

Because let's face it – it's no longer enough to make a great car on an assembly line. We need the flexibility that comes from integrating automation and information technologies to launch the next industrial revolution – which will then drive higher levels of performance, achieve greater efficiencies, and make manufacturers more competitive than ever before.

John Bernaden
John Bernaden
Director External Communications, Rockwell Automation
John Bernaden

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