Thanks to the exponential growth in technology, we now have faster processing powers, more extensive data-handling solutions, edge devices, and more widely available rapid networking solutions at a large scale. The availability of these technologies have enabled the digitization of traditional Manufacturing systems such as Toyota Production System (TPS), lean manufacturing, and world-class manufacturing (WCM).
These advancements provide techniques and methods to digitize and connect elements of a traditional manufacturing system and provide intelligence to continuously improve efficiency and the quality of the product produced. This process, in simple terms, is called smart manufacturing. The future generation of production systems will be a nervous system with digital threads and twins.
Smart manufacturing is not just limited to the process of transforming materials into a product. It covers all aspects of manufacturing such as supply chain, logistics, warehousing, product lifecycle, environment, and health and well-being. Let's go into some of the aspects of how smart manufacturing is transforming them.
Smart manufacturing systems have enabled real-time tracking of material consumption, eliminating obsolescence, and allowing for more accurate forecasts, quicker responses to changes, higher inventory turnovers, and on-time and just-in-time deliveries. The best examples of this are consumer electronics manufacturers such as Apple, which has an inventory turnover of over 75 units, and Dell, with an inventory turnover above 35. These companies have smart and connected supply chains that are fully integrated and synchronized with their demand and manufacturing systems to achieve high inventory turnovers.
Smart manufacturing is enabling more and more manufacturing facilities to be efficient in power consumption (with smart lighting and sensors) and minimize utility waste (of water and compressed air) by providing leak detections. Sensors now provide information for preventative maintenance and to avoid energy waste. Smart routing and batching now allows chemical and cleaning processes to reduce freshwater waste and minimize chemical waste in the environment.
Overall, working environments are designed based on data from smart devices to provide the most ergonomic and safe working environment. Tech-driven, automated, in-process quality checks; poke yoke processes; and wearables enable training and immersive experiences for humans involved in the manufacturing process to provide a much healthier working environment.
Connected production assets enable the most efficient use of equipment and minimize production downtime due to repair, maintenance, or failure. Connected transportation assets optimize material deliveries and ways of routing traffic through manufacturing facilities
Future factories will be a hybrid of traditional manufacturing systems and smart manufacturing. The business value resulting from smart manufacturing — quicker time to market, cost efficiencies, environmental benefits, and better customer experiences — is becoming the driving force for several industries to embark on their digital transformation journey.