Smart manufacturing has been described in various ways ranging from the overly-simplified to the complex. It is part of an evolving way in which manufacturers respond to current market and technological conditions with a goal of maximizing profitability. In that respect, it is no different than what manufacturers have always sought to do. Smart manufacturing, however, involves looking at our business from a different perspective. While previous generations of manufacturers may have viewed their entities from an inside-out or self-contained point of view, smart manufacturing breaks down walls and barriers to better understand the role our company plays in the production process and how we can use technology to improve our communications and processes.
Almost three years ago we discussed smart manufacturing and its impact on the metal fabrication industry. In this article, we want to delve into the 8 specific ways smart manufacturing helps sustain operational improvement and business growth for manufacturers.
1. Improves Profitability
One of the key factors that often gets left out when discussing smart manufacturing is that its entire goal is to improve profitability. People often get lost in the technology involved in smart manufacturing and how in some respects, amazing it can be when machines talk to each other. But the entire purpose is to make manufacturers more efficient and profitable. Whether its document management, logistics, warehousing, raw material and finished product tracking all aspects of smart manufacturing are designed to ultimately improve the bottom line. While how long it may take a certain procedure to become profitable may be debated, the goal of profitability should be a constant.
2. Flattens Out an Organization
Smart manufacturing helps flatten out an organization by helping to eliminate information silos and communication barriers. It facilitates information sharing from the plant floor to management and planning. It helps eliminate the sometimes slow, traditional management hierarchy that muddies the flow of information up and down the management structure. Instead, it makes data and information available as needed to anyone who can use it to improve performance. It has the added benefit of making sure critical information is available to more than a few key employees. Many organizations see much more employee involvement and responsibility when this information is shared.
3. It is People Focused
While there are certainly significant aspects of smart manufacturing that involve technology, it is actually very people oriented. It is designed, in part, to help associates perform their jobs better, reacting more quickly to available data. Employees can better react to changes in the supply chain or marketplace or issues with logistics. Rather than eliminate the need for human interaction it places more importance on it.
4. Smart Manufacturing is Data Driven
It has always been important to get the right information to the right people throughout the manufacturing process. In smart manufacturing, this facilitates the ever-increasing amount of big data available through the internet and the cloud and putting it to use in the plant with a tablet or even a smartphone. It can use this data to make some decisions on its own or to notify a human operator when required. This data can be used to initiate automated transport vehicles and other tasks, allowing humans to perform more high-value tasks. Since smart manufacturing is data-driven, decision are much less subjective.
5. It is Responsive and Agile
One of the significant benefits of smart manufacturing is how responsive and agile it makes the decision-making process. Both problems and opportunities may be identified quicker, minimizing waste and maximizing productivity. Information can be combined from sales, the supply chain, the marketplace, and even social media to help determine the best decisions to make. With layers of communications stripped down and barriers to communications eliminated, changes can be dealt with almost instantly.
6. It is Sustainable Socially, Economically and Environmentally
Smart manufacturing helps achieve the goals of these three areas by accessing real-time data to take advantage of every opportunity as it presents itself. It also helps limit material waste while improving productivity. It can help better monitor and track waste and identify personnel challenges. Properly implemented, smart manufacturing processes are not just short-term fixes but sustainable in the long run. They also position your organization as sustainable and environmentally friendly to your partner clients.
7. It is Current
Smart manufacturing is not some futuristic-someday-perhaps-maybe-it-will-happen process. Data and systems are available right now that can help manufacturers take advantage of this remarkable flow of information. There is no need to wait. It can help you make better decisions in real-time today. If you wait for all the pieces to be in place you will likely be falling far behind the curve.
8. It Increases Innovation and Improves Initiative
Once more people have more information available to them in your company, you may be surprised at the amount of innovation that results. You are creating opportunities and encouraging creativity and innovation. They need fewer instructions and take more responsibility. Smart manufacturing places your organization in a position of continual growth and operational improvement.
A Fresh Look at Your Company
There was a time when many of us just wanted a cell phone to take pictures and make calls. Today, most couldn’t imagine our lives without a smartphone to access information and data. The same will likely be said someday of smart manufacturing processes. We may think all we want is to manufacture our products more efficiently but when we see real value that smart manufacturing offers, we may never go back.
Implementing smart manufacturing requires us to take a fresh look at our organizations. It helps us understand that our companies are not limited to the four walls that contain them. We are part of a larger, almost organic system of partners and suppliers and the better we can communicate with them and respond to their needs and the needs of their customers the more profitable we can become. The more we know and the more we share, the better we can become. It is the smart thing to do.
Do you have a concept or idea that needs a metal fabrication partner to bring to fruition? Contact Wiley Metal and let’s discuss it. Call our offices or email us to get started.