Smart Manufacturing Demystified

What is Smart Manufacturing about anyway? 

Performance Management 

Performance Management provides real-time, actionable insights into what is negatively impacting production throughput so that you can take measurable, corrective action.

Though it’s been around for many decades, the latest Industry 4.0 technology allows Performance Management to be deployed quickly and cost-effectively usually providing a Return-on-Investment of less than a year. Why is that? Because understanding what is negatively impacting your line throughput in real-time provides actionable data-driven insights that you can act upon to resolve the throughput constraints.

Smart sensors and agile platforms now allow ­all manufacturers to benefit from this solution. No longer do you have to first install a network or upgrade your PLCs before you can benefit from these insights. You can now start small, prove out the value of the insights, then expand. A small beverage manufacturer we work with increased their OEE from 51% to 79% over a two-year period! That means 55% more cases shipped using the same assets and personnel!


Unlike Performance Management which delivers, in most cases, a solid Return-on-Investment (ROI), Traceability is a compliance and risk management solution that helps meet regulatory requirements, protect brand reputation, ensure customer safety, and minimize the impact to the business when a product recall occurs. Like insurance, you prefer not to pay for it until you need it, then you’re glad you have it!

In its simplest form, Traceability tracks which ingredients and materials go into each product during the manufacturing process. If you later identify a “bad” ingredient/material, you can easily, and with a very high degree of confidence, identify which customer has that product. The “very high degree of confidence” is key to ensure the issue has been contained without recalling everything.

Many industries, such as pharma and medical, are required by the FDA to meet minimum traceability requirements. Though these requirements are now becoming consumer expectations for many other industries. If Amazon, FedEx, UPS, and others can tell me where a package is at any time, then why can’t all manufacturers do this?

This consumer expectation is putting pressure on manufacturers to shift from paper-based forms to digital solutions. Fortunately, these digital solutions now leverage Industry 4.0 technologies that make them more cost-effective, faster to deploy and provide many other benefits.

As is true with most Smart Manufacturing solutions, you solve one problem (traceability) and get a bonus of many other benefits, such as real-time visibility into material supplies, Work-in-Process (WIP), and inventory, and more.

Production Management 

Do you have a top-performing scheduler who knows how to best sequence your production orders to maximize throughput?

That’s great, and scary when he/she is not there! What if you could capture his/her thought process along with your company’s collective tribal knowledge and then take it to another level by using advanced algorithms to improve your scheduling optimization even further? That’s what Production Management and  Algorithmic Production Scheduling does.

It looks at different variables (Delivery commitments; Availability of Inventory/Materials/Assets/Operators; Changeover requirements between products; Historical/real-time data; etc.) to determine the optimal production schedule in real-time, multiple times per day as conditions change.

Any solution that allows you to run your existing equipment more efficiently is likely to have an attractive Return-On-Investment (ROI), in many cases as low as a few months.

Quality Management

Quality Management software solutions have been in use for many years helping manufacturers manage and meet their quality requirements. These solutions were typically deployed as point solutions requiring different software, training, interface, integration, etc., and lacked the ability to easily contextualize quality with other manufacturing data. In many cases, the same data had to be entered into multiple different systems to provide some level of context.

Modern Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) platforms can now deliver similar Quality functionality as these point solutions, with the added benefit of leveraging a single platform (common user interface, configuration, database, etc.) and contextualizing the quality data with all other manufacturing data (performance, inventory, traceability, scheduling, etc.). Dashboards, reports, alerts, and machine learning insights all become easier with the data in a common, open, easily accessible database. This is the true power of Digital Transformation!

Our smartphones provide an easy analogy to understand this concept. No longer do we carry a separate calendar, address list, cell phone, GPS navigator, etc. The value of contextualized, real-time information is something we’ve all become accustomed to within these functions and many more.

Inventory Management

Inventory Management and tracking Work-in-Process (WIP) has become significantly easier with the latest Industry 4.0 technologies. Smart Sensors, RFID, and GPS-enabled trackers along with cloud solutions and modern Manufacturing Operations platforms allow these solutions to be deployed across the manufacturing and broader supply chain enterprise rapidly and cost-effectively.

Take RFID for example: Even though RFID technology has been around for a few decades, we are seeing a resurgence in the use of RFID due to the lower cost and higher capability of RFID tags and the associated hardware such as readers and antennas. This cycle is typical of many new technologies where the hype creates inflated expectations which the technology may not be ready to deliver for a few years (remember the 2001 dot-com bubble?).

This is a key consideration as manufacturers are looking to deploy Industry 4.0 technologies for Inventory Management and other solutions. Selecting the right technologies, proven approach, and best-in-class vendors will help ensure manufacturers avoid the dreaded proof-of-concept purgatory that many studies have termed for initial projects that don’t move forward.

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