But Thomas Kull, professor at Arizona State University, allowed that smart manufacturing “is laying down a challenge to U.S. creativity and initiative. The race to make the most from these technologies is on. Fortunately, the United States has a nice track record for ingenuity. Unfortunately, we also have a tendency toward complacency.”
Smart manufacturing already has helped some iconic American manufacturers such as Harley-Davidson compete more effectively. And the consensus is that other American companies and, collectively, the U.S. manufacturing base as a whole, can best press its budding smart-manufacturing edge in a handful of ways.
One is advanced technologies such as 3D printing, where local “additive manufacturing” can create massive advantages in the supply chain. Another is “augmented reality,” which uses digital imaging to help workers put things together—and may come in especially handy for the digital natives of the Millennial generation, Pradeep Amladi, vice president of manufacturing for SAP said.
A third area, McCutcheon adds, is use of sensors and smart automation to fine-tune the manufacturing process. And a fourth arena is big data and analytics, which have become the biggest recipient of IT investments by manufacturers these days. “The emphasis,” Rasmus says, “is on getting information off the manufacturing floor to use in decision-making.”