Top 5 Smart Manufacturing Trends

Over the past several years, Polytron has implemented many different technologies and solutions for manufacturers across several industries. Smart Manufacturing technologies include IIoT, Smart Sensors, Machine Learning/AI, Block Chain, Smart Glasses, RFID, Digital Twin, Virtual/Augmented Reality, and modern Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) platforms to name a few. These technologies are leveraged individually or in combination to deliver solutions such as Advanced Analytics, Performance/Quality/Maintenance/Inventory Management, Scoreboards, Paperless digital solutions, Traceability, Digital Workflow, Finite Scheduling, Supply Chain Visibility and Integration, among many others.

Here are the Top 5 Smart Manufacturing Solutions we see being deployed successfully and delivering value to manufacturers:

  1. Smart Sensors to provide fast, cost-effective, real-time insights

Many folks struggle to understand why Industry 4.0 is such a big deal and point to similar technologies that have been around for years. It’s akin to saying that Gordon Gekko had a cell phone in the movie Wall Street which was filmed in 1987, so what’s the big deal with Smartphones! You can likely answer this question for yourself but the answer lies in the combination of drastically greater functionality at a much lower cost.

Smart sensors fall into this same category. Wireless and mesh-enabled sensors allow you to quickly start collecting digital and analog signals from your production lines, even if you don’t have a network or servers in place. This allows all manufacturers, regardless of size, to benefit from this technology. Following the Pareto Principle (aka 80/20 rule), a few sensors giving you real-time visibility into critical areas of your manufacturing can provide significant insights to drive manufacturing improvements. We are seeing, and have deployed, many of these smart sensor solutions for OEE, condition-based monitoring, and other solutions.

  1. Modern Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) platforms

The true power of Digital Transformation will be derived when real time data and insights are readily available from all of your manufacturing, distribution and supply chain systems and are able provide contextualized, actionable insights. As you start/continue your Smart Manufacturing journey and are solving short term problems to drive productivity improvements, make sure to carefully consider technology and vendor selection that will also meet your long term goals. Point solutions that solve an immediate problem (OEE, Paperless, Quality, Scoreboards, etc.) but leave you with many different technologies to manage, maintain, train on, and integrate, may not provide you with the best long term solution.

The newer, modern Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) platforms are now able to deliver much of this functionality in a single extensible platform, with a common user interface, back end, configuration, training, etc. We have found that leveraging the right MOM platform simplifies tremendously the technology stack and therefore agility to deploy new functionality as manufacturers continue on their journey.

  1. Condition Based Monitoring

We’ve all heard the old adage Crawl, Walk, Run. Manufacturers are easing into Predictive Maintenance by capturing the so called low-hanging fruit first. Adding wireless vibration sensors to critical assets such as motors, gear boxes, etc. that are deemed high risk of causing downtime is an easy way to start this journey. Though this has been in place for many years in heavy industries (i.e. Oil & Gas) where the assets and downtime are very costly, we are seeing greater adoption of this solution in other lighter industries (i.e. Food, Beverage, CPG, Pharma, Automotive). Many of the leading manufacturers in these lighter industries are deploying this solution across their enterprise.

Multiple architectures are available, but the main ones we are seeing are: 1. Integrate the vibration signal into existing automation and trigger alerts based on baselines established OR 2. Outsource it all to a vendor-monitored and maintained cloud-based solution. Pros and cons with each approach. Selection should be made based on your overall Digital Transformation strategy.

  1. Finite Scheduling

Do you have a top performing scheduler who knows how to best sequence your production orders to maximize throughput? That’s great, but scary when he/she is not there! What if you could capture his/her thought process along with the your company’s collective tribal knowledge and then took it to another level by using advanced algorithms to improve your scheduling optimization even further? That’s what Finite Scheduling does. It looks at many different variables (change over requirements between products; Inventory/Asset/Operator availability; delivery commitments; historical/real-time data, etc.) to determine the optimal production schedule.

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.

  1. RFID   

RFID is another example of a technology that has been around for a few decades but is seeing a resurgence due to the lower cost and higher capability of RFID tags and readers. Recall that back in 2003, Walmart had issued an edict to manufacturers that every pallet sent to Walmart would have an RFID tag on it. Well that did not happen because it was too early in the lifecycle of that technology. If you’re familiar with the Gartner Hype Cycle, many new technologies reach the Peak of Inflated Expectations before the technology is actually ready to deliver the promised productivity improvements. Smart Glasses are going through a similar cycle.

We have deployed several RFID projects in manufacturing over the past few years for Inventory Management, Traceability and Supply Chain integration. RFID is another great tool in the tool bag when developing these types of solutions, but must be applied appropriately. Bar Codes are still of value in many situations.