by Kevin Jones, Owner/Founder, Ectobox, Inc

Got Issues?

Manufacturers are dealing with increasing pressures. The pressures are from competition in their market, more difficulty hiring operators, and valuable and historical knowledge walking out of the door with retirees, among others. Unfortunately, these pressures aren’t going away. Therefore, companies are looking for new ideas to keep up and get ahead.

Industrie 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing

The answer may lie within the concepts of Industrie 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing. This article discusses both concepts- with primary focus on Smart Manufacturing. Industrie 4.0 is a label from Europe, specifically the German government, applied to the idea of increasing the use of new technologies to improve production, manufacturing, and supply chain in combination with existing manufacturing practices.

Smart Manufacturing is a similar concept to Industrie 4.0 and is the term more closely associated with North America. Smart Manufacturing has different definitions depending on who you ask. For purposes of this discussion it is the use of technologies including the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and robots, big data, artificial intelligence, and modeling. The purpose of these technologies is to enable manufacturers to have more efficient and flexible operations to handle more dynamic customer needs and supply chain.

IoT Introduction

Let’s look at IoT. It’s the process of taking data from sensors on old and new machines, moving that data over the network or the Internet, combining it with other valuable data (e.g., ERP, CMMS), and converting it to valuable information. That information can then be used to understand more deeply what is happening on the plant floor. For example, let’s say we have an operator running two CNC machines in a cell. We know we should see more productivity from that cell. However, we don’t know if it’s the operator, a tool change issue, machine is down, or other issues. An IoT software platform allows us to dig deeper than otherwise possible, directly to the machines, add valuable ERP data and do some basic analysis, and present results to owners and production supervisors for investigation and corrective action. This can result in increased productivity and revenue.

IoT Isn’t Complicated

Many companies hesitate to consider IoT because it is too costly and complicated. But, it isn’t complicated if tackled one machine or cell at a time. It can even be less complicated than implementing an ERP system. With a thoughtful roadmap, an incremental approach, and data driving culture, companies can gain significant benefits from IoT and the other Smart Manufacturing technologies.

Side note: NWIRC will offer a free webinar, November 7 at 11:00am, on Industrie 4.0/Smart Manufacturing and how to use and benefit from technology. More info at www.nwirc.org/events.