The rapid deployment of solutions such as smart sensors and industrial computers in manufacturing is generating a wealth of data that can be used by advanced software and IIoT systems to deliver benefits like better asset performance, more flexible operations, enhanced cybersecurity, and the ability to meet fluctuating demand.
The 2022 State of Smart Manufacturing Report by Plex – a SaaS manufacturing platform that includes MES, quality, and supply chain management capabilities – offers a particularly fascinating insight. The survey of 321 manufacturers found that 75 percent of organisations will have some components of smart manufacturing in adoption by 2023 – this is up from a modest 40 percent in 2021. Rockwell Automation, the world’s largest company dedicated to industrial automation and digital transformation, acquired Plex last year.
This steep uptake comes on the heels of a tumultuous period where companies had to deal with the impact of Covid-19, supply chain disruptions and skills shortages. Interestingly, organisations are meeting these challenges head-on with the adoption of smart manufacturing.
Not very long back, hardware systems were the backbone of many manufacturing operations, with limited software integration. That is changing significantly and rapidly with companies now embracing an integrated approach as they build efficient and resilient operations. According to the Industrial Software Landscape 2022–2027 report, 2022 is expected to be the first year in which the average manufacturer will spend more on industrial software than on industrial automation hardware.
The State of Smart Manufacturing Report also found that more than nine out of 10 (93 per cent) Asia-Pacific (APAC) organisations believe that smart manufacturing is key to their business’ future. Further, most of these technology-positive APAC organisations surveyed reported they are putting their money where their beliefs are and intend to adopt smart manufacturing solutions over the next year.
“It’s clear from the report that the APAC region strongly believes in smart manufacturing, and sees it as a solution to many of the issues businesses are currently facing, including skilled labour shortages, expanding competition, and supply chain disruptions,” says Rockwell Automation Regional Director, South Pacific, Anthony Wong.
Technology paralysis still holding back manufacturing
Smart devices, smart machines and smart systems can improve productivity, product quality and safety while providing intelligence and data that make a company’s operations more streamlined and profitable.
According to the IDC Technology Spotlight published in January 2022 and sponsored by Plex, the rapid pace of change has led the industry to start defining its future success by how well it can react to market disruptions. IDC calls this operational resiliency, and it’s achieved by providing employees with near-real-time information, detailed insights on performance, and analytics to improve the decision-making process across the manufacturing value chain.
The report found that digital manufacturers benefited from a 26 percent increase in their revenue performance index (RPI) and a 27 percent increase in their profit performance index (PPI). In contrast, non-digital manufacturers experienced decreases of 9% in RPI and 2 percent in PPI.
Implementing a full-blown digital manufacturing strategy can be a daunting prospect and it’s not surprising that 24% of respondents in the 2022 State of Smart Manufacturing Report identified ‘technology paralysis’ as an obstacle to growth.
Understandably, successful teams embarking on a smart manufacturing strategy often break down their implementations and aim for quick wins with a stepped approach. “Time to value is important, as decision-makers generally do not have the ability to invest aggressively without seeing gains almost immediately,” said Wong.
Industry is moving in the right direction, with 83% of 2022 State of Manufacturing Report survey respondents stating that smart manufacturing is key to their organisation’s future success.
Creating a smart manufacturing strategy
The key components of a typical smart manufacturing strategy include:
- Maintenance. Digitising machine maintenance by eliminating technicians walking with clipboards and eliminating paper-based checklists. By tapping into data generated by manufacturing equipment, employees have access to real time machine performance and can be proactive rather than reactive
- Quality. Dealing with quality issues is expensive for manufacturers as it could lead to costly recalls, generate large amounts of scrap and damage customer loyalty. Manufacturers could instead implement software solutions that offer dashboards to monitor data and act in real time if there is a deviation from set thresholds. Statistical process control and failure mode and effects analysis can improve the reliability of manufacturing processes.
- Compliance. Environmental compliance is critical to the health of the community, the employees, and the business. Automating incident management allows companies to collate the information needed to conduct investigations into those incidents. This will help prevent or reduce recurrence of incidents.
- Skills. Finding and retaining talent is one of the major challenges facing manufacturers and many successful companies are deploying technology to overcome this issue. Process automation, knowledge management systems, and collaboration tools can free up human resources and allow employees to focus on high-value activities. The first step in this evolution is the digitisation of operational information.
Rockwell Automation has developed a solution to support manufacturers on their digital journey. “Our Connected Enterprise Production System reduces the distinction between hardware and software, and brings together a holistic industrial system approach,” says Wong.
As companies rapidly embrace Industry 4.0 and derive increasing value from a connected data-rich manufacturing environment, they will look to leverage the power obtained by the merging of hardware and software systems to deal with threats like cybersecurity and benefit from opportunities like personalisation.