How to Navigate the Road to Smart Manufacturing

Navigate the Road to Smart Manufacturing

When planning a smart manufacturing strategy, focusing on four key areas can help drive a more successful IoT implementation.

By Beth Parkinson, market development manager for The Connected Enterprise, Rockwell Automation

Numerous initiatives have been put into motion around the world to fundamentally transform manufacturing as we know it. The initiatives have different names — from the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition and Industrie 4.0 in the West, to Made in China 2025 and Manufacturing Innovation 3.0 in the East — but they share a common pursuit: smart manufacturing.

This global push for smart manufacturing is underway for good reason. By providing greater connectivity across a manufacturing enterprise and the ability to act on production intelligence, smart manufacturing offers many opportunities for industrial firms to improve operations, create new value and respond to challenges such as the skilled-labor shortage.

For example, manufacturers are using embedded machinery intelligence to predict equipment failures and improve productivity. They’re using remote-access capabilities to monitor multiple machines simultaneously from a centralized location, allowing them to use labor more efficiently. They’re extending this greater connectivity and information-sharing outside their production walls to track and coordinate supply chain activities better. They’re also using contemporary cloud technologies to change business models and build new revenue streams.

However, while some forward-thinking manufacturers have embraced smart manufacturing fully and already are reaping the benefits, most still have much work ahead of them.

Case in point: Only 11% of manufacturers have implemented a strategy to apply Internet of Things (IoT) technologies to production processes, according to a recent survey by The MPI Group. Even worse, about half of manufacturers said they’re still struggling with the basics of defining and implementing an IoT strategy.

Building the Infrastructure

Adoption of key technologies is an essential part of a smart manufacturing approach. This includes using the IoT, an ever-growing proliferation of connected “smart” devices, to improve understanding of quality, efficiency, security and safety. It also includes the strategic use of cloud computing, mobility and data analytics.

While most industrial firms are not yet prepared to deploy smart manufacturing technologies, they clearly see opportunities for using them. According to the MPI study, the top five objectives manufacturers identified for incorporating the IoT into their operations are:

  • Improved product quality.
  • Increased speed of operations.
  • Decreased manufacturing costs.
  • Improved maintenance.
  • Uptime and improved information for business analytics.

Achieving these objectives requires an integrated architecture and a strategy for using smart manufacturing technologies. Specifically, manufacturers must converge their IT and operations technology (OT) systems into a single, unified network infrastructure and identify opportunities for using IoT technologies that allow seamless connectivity and information-sharing across people, processes and things.

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At the same time, manufacturers also need to manage their greater abundance of data efficiently and in ways that help them make better, faster business decisions. This includes using IoT device intelligence, cloud connectivity and data analytics all together to help manage the large data sets required for balancing production activities based on upstream inventories and downstream demand.

Rockwell Automation calls this The Connected Enterprise. Manufacturers seeking to build a Connected Enterprise in support of deploying smart manufacturing should focus on four core tactics:

1. Increasing Quality and Productivity. Quality-management and continuous-improvement programs can do only so much when the information they rely on is limited or not available in real time.

Manufacturers are using embedded machine or equipment intelligence to monitor most product specifications in real time, either from a customer or regulatory perspective. More than that, they’re using this intelligence to address product defects and variations rapidly as they happen, verify quality goals are met and improve customer satisfaction.

Using embedded intelligence to improve control and transparency of manufacturing processes also creates new opportunities to improve productivity. For example, operators on the plant floor now are analyzing real-time production data to uncover hidden inefficiencies and implement changes faster.

At the supply-chain level, managers and logistics professionals are using smart manufacturing technologies to deliver critical information, such as forecasts and schedules to suppliers, while also monitoring delivery performances.

2. Improving Decision-Making. Better decision-making in a Connected Enterprise begins with working data capital. However, most manufacturers have older systems in place that will need to be updated for the next generation of productivity.

This involves reconciling their disparate OT data sources with their current IT systems, extracting the right data from smart manufacturing technologies and transforming that data into actionable information.

Manufacturers that have taken these steps and armed themselves with better information are using it to optimize their assets, improve their responsiveness to changing customer needs, refine work flows and reduce inventory. More than that, they’re gaining new, strategic insights that help them understand their businesses in deeper ways, including:

  • Identifying operational strengths and weaknesses
  • Analyzing processes and planning improvement initiatives
  • Designing and implementing better production systems
  • Developing targeted training programs
  • Establishing performance management systems

3. Establishing Safe and Reliable Operations. Achieving safe, compliant and reliable operations is an ongoing concern for any manufacturer, and smart manufacturing provides new opportunities for dealing with some of these age-old challenges.

The most obvious opportunities will include replacing obsolete and isolated automation systems that have exceeded their life spans, are difficult to connect and are no longer supported by their manufacturers. However, manufacturers also should define new requirements based on past performance in areas such as employee injuries, machinery downtime and work stoppages.

From there, they can prioritize processes and equipment for redesign. They should consider using embedded intelligence to gather real-time data, including equipment status and exception-based reporting, that can be contextualized and delivered as role-based analytics in areas such as quality, safety, compliance, energy usage and downtime issues. Different stakeholders, from quality and safety managers to operators and maintenance technicians, then can use that information to optimize machine performance, manufacturing processes and compliance.

Manufacturers also should make these processes collaborative, such as asking line workers where smarter machine assets can provide more visibility and control of complex production processes.

4. Securing the Infrastructure. Greater information availability and more connection points can introduce greater risk to manufacturing environments in the forms of internal and external threats. Cyber attackers are looking beyond corporate servers to target operations technologies, while decades-old devices and controls on the plant floor can be more susceptible to breaches through both malicious attacks and unintentional employee actions.

No single security technology or methodology will suffice in this complex threat landscape. Instead, manufacturers must use a comprehensive, defense-in-depth approach that establishes security safeguards at different layers to stop threats on multiple fronts.

A robust and secure network infrastructure should be built on standard and unmodified Ethernet, which has become the industry preference for security purposes. It also should allow technicians to manage software installations, patches and upgrades securely for years to come and incorporate strong security policies and procedures for everything from machine operations to bring your own device (BYOD).

Beginning the Journey

Smart manufacturing offers great potential, and it all begins with establishing a Connected Enterprise as the foundation for achieving greater connectivity and information sharing.

Let’s answer some of the most common questions manufacturers ask as they prepare to build a Connected Enterprise:

What continuous improvement processes can smart manufacturing help me with? This will depend on a manufacturer’s specific operations and business goals. But some good areas to start with include overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), product quality, downtime, scrap, worker safety and energy consumption.

Which business process transformation is going to provide me with a competitive advantage? And is smart manufacturing going to get me there? Enterprise-wide connectivity can help manufacturers coordinate operations better across all levels to create more demand-driven operations. Asset intelligence also can transform maintenance approaches from reactive to predictive to help improve uptime. And automated data collection and reporting can save significant time compared to manual processes, especially in highly regulated industries.

What organizational changes are needed to facilitate smart manufacturing? IT/OT convergence is absolutely essential, and a similar convergence also must occur within the workforce. IT and operations personnel historically have worked separate from each other, but tighter collaboration is needed in The Connected Enterprise. Manufacturers must bridge the gap between these two groups while equipping them with new skills for managing industrial networked technologies.

How do I measure the benefits? The same working data capital used to monitor operations will help quantify benefits. Data can be viewed historically over set periods of time in KPI dashboards to measure OEE increases, quality improvements, scrap reduction and labor use. Standardizing data collection and reporting in The Connected Enterprise also can help compare performance across sites.

Am I ready for an ongoing journey to The Connected Enterprise versus a one-time event? Any path to The Connected Enterprise should begin with a comprehensive assessment. With an eye on the manufacturer’s current and future states, the assessment should cover the organization’s network infrastructure, manufacturing environment, data and reporting capabilities, and security policies. In the end, this will help identify what can be upgraded and what needs replacing.

Manufacturers that address these questions up front and keep the four core tactics for building a Connected Enterprise in mind as they plan a smart manufacturing strategy will be better prepared to capitalize on its true potential.

Learn more about The Connected Enterprise.   



The Journal From Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is published by Putman Media, Inc.


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The JOURNAL from Rockwell Automation and Our PartnerNetwork™ is a bimonthly magazine, published by Putman Media, Inc., designed to educate engineers about leading-edge industrial automation methods, trends and technologies.