Smart Manufacturing and IoT: How Connectivity and IoT Need Each Other for New Manufacturing Insights

Written by: Julie Fraser
2/28/2024

Read Time: 6 min

How is manufacturing evolving?

Companies realize that an ongoing customer relationship and revenue stream carries significant benefits. As a result, manufacturing needs to evolve to support initiatives focused on being more customer-centric. This leads to more robust efforts to address specific needs with products, parameters, availability, and pricing. Of course, the company must also please other stakeholders, such as shareholders, employees, and communities. This creates some tension to improve simultaneously on issues that might work against each other.

The need to change the equation from one of tradeoffs to one where all aspects can gain is leading companies toward digital transformation. One aspect of this is smart manufacturing.

What is smart manufacturing?

Many companies have initiatives for smart manufacturing, often also referred to as Industry 4.0. What is it? MESA International defines it this way: “Smart manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain.”

There is quite a bit to unpack there.

  • Intelligent means a vast array of data all coming together in context. An intelligent system works to ensure good performance actively; it does not just passively report what has happened. Intelligence also points to the system automating routine tasks, freeing up employees to do more challenging and strategic work.
  • Orchestration indicates coordinating various resources and processes, bringing the correct elements together when and where needed.
  • Optimization is about achieving peak performance – not just making the products but doing it in the best possible way to balance objectives.
  • Business, physical, and digital processes are all crucial to smart manufacturing. So, beyond the physical making of the product, all of the business transactions and the data about the processes are all orchestrated and optimized.
  • The factories and across the entire value chain points to a scope that includes the plant floor but goes well beyond into engineering, supply, distribution, and the ecosystem of partners as well.

What role does IoT play in smart manufacturing?

Our research shows that an industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platform is considered critical to industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing success by nearly three-quarters of the respondents from top-performing companies. Why? Because smart manufacturing rests on accurate, timely data streams from every process, every piece of equipment, and every aspect of the operation.

Industrial connectivity is the mechanism to access and deliver all of that data to smart manufacturing systems. Smart Manufacturing IoT leveraging an IIoT Platform paired with industrial connectivity,

  • captures data that would not otherwise be available
  • aggregates data from heterogenous machines, sensors, and devices and from legacy and modern hardware and software systems throughout the plants and the ecosystem
  • enriches data with context
  • visualizes the data
  • converts data to information to generate actionable insights.

IoT is often used in connecting brownfield factories. Connecting the diverse set of machines with industrial connectivity lays the groundwork for integrated manufacturing processes with IoT. Industrial connectivity and an IIoT platform can create real-time dashboards that track machine and operational efficiency, providing actionable insights to improve performance.

For example, smart manufacturing uses industrial connectivity to capture sensor readings to ensure materials enter the process at the right temperature and speed. This data can feed into the process optimization algorithms in an IIoT platform to keep the process in control and running smoothly. This data can be contextualized with other data, including tester data from measurements of the final products, to check that the materials in spec have generated a high-quality product. This approach is efficient, cost-effective, and easy for the plant personnel.

What are the benefits of smart manufacturing?

This definition of smart manufacturing above hints at why it’s so attractive. Yet, let’s dive into some of the benefits. Note that each benefit will carry different weights by industry, company, and plant. The weighting may also change as economics, strategies, and market conditions vary.

Greater agility

One of the most daunting challenges for manufacturing is often keeping up with the proliferation of products and variants. Innovative and customer-centric manufacturers are striving to deliver more versions to fit the needs of more customers. Yet that creates exponential complexity in the plant. Smart manufacturing, with its intelligent orchestration and optimization by digital means, can make a higher mix more manageable.

Cost savings

Increasingly, companies are finding that these connected, IoT-driven environments can lower costs. Based on the increased data availability, maintenance is more planned, production suffers less waste, and overall efficiency is improved. Materials issues are apparent earlier, as are safety and compliance risks. The increased visibility into factory operations allows manufacturers to prioritize the major bottlenecks affecting production, thus reducing lost time. All of these can have significant cost impacts.

More efficient

When more comprehensive and reliable smart manufacturing data sets are available, efficiency rises. One aspect is asset and machine efficiency with reduced downtime and improved OEE. Another is worker productivity, as people spend less time looking for data, consulting each other, and making decisions. Smart manufacturing can reduce or eliminate manually-introduced errors. Documentation of processes and as-built products can be a natural result of the production process. In short, both people and machines can be much more efficient.

Improved customer experience

Customers are looking for the best suppliers. With smart manufacturing, the tradeoffs are minimal, and they can often get the cost, quality, and speed they crave – not just two of the three.

Remote troubleshooting

Anyone with a high-level responsible job for a production operation knows that immediate action is of the essence when things break down. Remote monitoring enables a real-time view of conditions that generates alerts when abnormal conditions arise. Going into troubleshooting remotely means that if a call comes in the middle of the night, an expert – either local or on the other side of the world - can log into the computer and help find the root cause and solve the problem immediately.

Less downtime

Remote troubleshooting can minimize downtime. Having all the data you need, even locally, can also speed up maintenance tasks. With intelligent systems, you can often also predict problems and prevent downtime. Predictive and preventative maintenance can improve cost, efficiency, and customer experience.

Increased product quality

Understanding the critical to quality points in a product through data from design traveling to the plant is part of it. Quality is also much easier to control and assure in the plant, since digital systems deliver a consistency that is impossible with extensive manual intervention.

The importance of industrial connectivity in smart manufacturing

Having access to the right data is a foundation for smart manufacturing. This is where industrial connectivity plays a role. Yet, many companies are advancing smart manufacturing IoT initiatives get stuck when they realize they don’t have access to the data from legacy assets and machines in the factory. Connectivity is crucial to acquire OT data seamlessly and securely at scale. Once the data is collected, it can go into smart manufacturing IoT systems to put the data into a useful context and cohesive format.

Industrial connectivity is a wide-ranging issue since smart manufacturing, as we’ve defined it, spans from machines to lines to plants to multiple plants to the enterprise and the ecosystem or value chain. Two-thirds of top-performing companies in our survey also have an initiative to integrate equipment, plant, and enterprise systems.

Machine and IoT sensor connectivity is the most challenging part for many manufacturers. The variety of equipment and formats in OT is staggering, particularly in older plants and equipment. In addition, these are more likely to be unstructured or semi-structured data that flood in at very high volumes and speeds. Tags and readings from machines typically don’t look much like data in a database, even from a plant floor software system.

So, smart manufacturing IoT needs industrial connectivity to work. The data from machines and other sensors needs to be translated, potentially multiple times, in order to be securely shared and understood by Industrial IoT.

In short, industrial connectivity is an imperative to success with IoT. Together, they can fuel the orchestration and optimization that smart manufacturing promises.

Connected production

At the heart of many companies’ smart manufacturing initiatives is connected production. Connectivity and smart manufacturing IoT expand the breadth and depth of real-time data available about what’s happening in the factory. Having this complete and timely data about complex and interconnected manufacturing processes can deliver insights. Those insights, in turn, help a manufacturer move toward optimizing and orchestrating its manufacturing processes for greater efficiency.

The smart connected factory – and networks of smart connected plants – are revolutionizing not only how well we make things but also our expectations of how well we can make things. Achieving cost, quality, and speed all at once is part of this new equation. Fewer tedious manual documentation and process tasks mean less opportunity for error and more engaged employees.

Insights based on production are crucial to the success of a manufacturing business. With immediate visibility to not just data, but information and insights, factories can accelerate progress. With Smart Manufacturing, production operations will be equipped for constant change in products and materials, reliable continuous improvement, and connected workers who can make optimal decisions on the spot.

The future of smart manufacturing

We are in the process of an industry-wide digital transformation toward smart manufacturing. Using Industrial IoT for smart manufacturing, business, physical, and digital processes begin to synchronize naturally. As wasted effort and manual errors become relics of the past, our smart factories will be centerpieces for smart manufacturing that spans entire industry ecosystems.

Our research consistently shows that those who invest in elements such as smart manufacturing IoT and industrial connectivity can improve outcomes. They will be more agile in responding to change, more consistently improving, and thus enjoying top-line revenue opportunities and bottom-line cost-savings.

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Tags: Industrial Internet of Things Thingworx Industrial Equipment Corporate Update

About the Author

Julie Fraser

Julie Fraser is the Vice President of Research for Operations and Manufacturing for research firm Tech-Clarity. She covers Industry 4.0, Smart Manufacturing, MES/MOM, QMS, APS, APM/CMS, IIoT, AR/VR, other technologies and solutions for manufacturing.

Julie has over 25 years as an industry analyst in addition to experience in marketing and strategy (Berclain/Baan, now Infor) and editorial roles for computer and technology publications. She worked as an assembler over college summers and that got her hooked on manufacturing. She has a BA in German and French, Magna cum laude, Phi Beta Kappa, from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. She is also a certified business change agent and conscious business ambassador.

Julie’s current areas of research include the realities of moving Industry 4.0 from vision to reality; the role of MES/MOM in the new landscape; incremental vs. transformational change in manufacturing; approaches to empower plant workers and their leaders; IT/OT convergence; personalized and local manufacturing; and more. She is fascinated by the organizational, cultural and personal transformations required to drive success with new technology and approaches to manufacturing.

Julie is a certified yoga and meditation teacher. When she’s in love with life, good things like the opportunity to work for Tech-Clarity come at the right time.