By migrating away from traditional, vertical silos like manufacturing here and supply chain there and customer orders somewhere else, the entire process is realigned through automation. Benefits include faster time to market, greater agility and speed in responding to customer trends, improved asset utilization and predictive machine maintenance, among other gains.
“Any company in the market to buy factory equipment today would be making a mistake not to pay a bit extra and buy smarter machines with microprocessors and an Ethernet port on the back side,” says John Bernaden, an SMLC member and director of corporate affairs at Rockwell Automation. “Even if you have no plan to plug in the equipment right now, some day you will want to do so because the intelligence deriving from that machine will be invaluable.”
This intelligence is gleaned from various sensors, and network-based data and modeling software embedded inside plant equipment to manage throughput, product quality, maintenance, inventory and the supply chain. This information is simultaneously integrated with other enterprise systems, infusing manufacturing intelligence throughout the lifecycle of design, engineering, planning and production.
The supply chain benefits alone are enticing. By digitizing the production process and having this information flow to and from the plant and the extended enterprise, smart manufacturers can provide real-time visibility to suppliers so that the exact quantities of a particular part or component are delivered by a certain date, allowing for minimal excess inventory. “Systems simply know how to produce whatever is ordered, whenever it’s ordered,” explains Michael Yost, an SMLC member and president of MESA International, a manufacturing membership organization focused on driving greater productivity. “The workflow integrates all responsible personnel in real time, regardless of where they exist across the globe.”
By hinging the supply chain to real-time and forecast requirements right at the manufacturing location, companies have greater flexibility to match production with demand, as well as more agility in delivering orders of varying order sizes. Any defects or drifts in a part’s tolerance also can be corrected immediately, reducing disruptive incidents caused by order changes.