What Is the Smart Factory and Its Impact on Manufacturing?

Smart Manufacturing

Digital technology has become an integral part of every aspect of modern society, from our personal lives, to marketing, to education, and more. It only makes sense, then, that digital technology’s long arm has extended to the manufacturing industry as well. In fact, the smart manufacturing market was worth $254.24 billion in 2022 and is expected to grow at a compound annual growth rate of 14.9% between 2023 and 2030.

Utilizing technology within the manufacturing sector—whether through smart manufacturing, advanced manufacturing, or a mix of both—comes with several benefits, such as maximizing energy efficiency and productivity. However, many companies hesitate to implement such actions because it takes time and money to gather the training, staff, and materials needed to get started. With thought leaders and other professionals out there to guide you, though, getting started with smart manufacturing is less difficult. Before we get there, though, let’s take a look at what smart manufacturing entails.

What Is Meant by Smart Manufacturing?

Smart manufacturing is the use of digital technology in manufacturing processes. More specifically, it employs machinery with internet connection capabilities to monitor manufacturing processes. It differs from advanced manufacturing in that the former focuses on data and connectivity while the latter centers on employing automation and robotics in the production of goods. Smart manufacturing utilizes the Internet of Things (IoT) to boost manufacturing efficiency as well as to monitor the health of already automated machines.  

When companies deploy smart manufacturing approaches in their facilities, they insert sensors in their machines. These sensors record information on the machines’ performance. Engineers and data analysts can then use the data to determine which parts within each piece of equipment may start to malfunction or break so that those parts can be replaced before the machine stops working and results in downtime. Using the IoT, engineers and data analysts can monitor data from several pieces of equipment across facilities in a single location.

In addition to preventing downtime, the data collected through smart manufacturing IoT can indicate to engineers when in the manufacturing process production slows down or uses more material than necessary. Based on the findings, engineers can take steps to improve the machines or the processes themselves for better efficiency and sustainability. In the end, smart manufacturing is about using your company’s time, money, and resources wisely.

What Is IoT in Smart Manufacturing?

IoT solutions for the manufacturing industry refer specifically to the connection of the physical world (sensors/devices/machines) with the digital world (the network or cloud). This connection forms when sensors and devices placed in manufacturing machines collect data on equipment performance. These devices are connected to the cloud so that information for all equipment can be stored in one place. IoT is what makes smart manufacturing, well, smart.

What Are the Key Elements of Smart Manufacturing?

The key elements of smart manufacturing are:

  • Connected Sensors: These are typically extremely small devices with microprocessors in them. Once they collect information on a machine’s operations and the quality of output products, they send that information to the cloud.
  • Computing Power: This is what actually allows the sensors to send information to the cloud. Without computing power, the sensor wouldn’t do as it should.
  • Continuous Connectivity: The sensors are always on and connected to the cloud. That means that they will constantly collect data so that artificial intelligence has more to analyze and can better detect anomalies.
  • Artificial Intelligence (AI): Teams can use AI to analyze the data collected by sensors and pick up on any unusual behavior of the manufacturing equipment as well as low-quality products created. It does so through advanced data analytics.
  • Remote Monitoring: Because data is collected and analyzed on the cloud, engineers and data analysts can review it no matter where they’re working from on a given day.

In addition to these elements, you also need to have the right technology to create an effective smart factory—a factory that implements smart manufacturing.

What Is Smart Manufacturing Technology?

There are several different types of smart manufacturing technology. In addition to AI and cloud computing power, which we’ve already discussed, there is also:

  • 5G: This stands for fifth generation technology for wireless networks. It can process lots of data with little to no delay and sends that data at high speeds. It is ten times faster than 4G and was made so that users have a better overall experience. With this technology, smart factories can more quickly collect and analyze data to inform their manufacturing decisions.
  • Poka-yoke: This is a Japanese term that means “avoid unexpected surprises” or “avoid blunders.” This kind of technology stops a process from continuing to the next step until all conditions are met. It works to improve product quality and machine efficiency. For example, if sensors recognize that a part wasn’t placed in the right position, the machine won’t do anything else with the product until the part has been positioned correctly.
  • Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP): This is a type of software that allows leadership to manage all parts of operations from one place. It can track inventory, machine maintenance logs, product quality, and more. What makes these ERPs more advanced than former versions is the fact that these are now mobile friendly and cloud-based.
  • Digital Twins: This refers to a virtual model of something real. In the case of manufacturing, you create digital copies of machines or products so that through simulations, you can figure out how to improve quality or operations without having to take the physical version apart. Based on the data collected from the physical models, the simulation can make accurate predictions on what the changes you make on the digital model would do to the real thing.

What Are the Six Pillars of Smart Manufacturing?

The six pillars of smart manufacturing are:

  1. Manufacturing Technology and Processes: Technology will continue to evolve, and as it does, so will related manufacturing processes. Smart factory equipment with IoT will get smarter and faster. New integrations will allow machines to work together for a more seamless process. This continuous evolution drives smarter manufacturing over time.
  2. Materials: While it is one of the six pillars of smart manufacturing, the materials themselves do not have to be “smart.” Rather, this pillar focuses on finding the right substances to use to create a high-quality, functioning product. These may be natural materials or synthetic ones. This pillar also focuses on conserving materials—producing less waste throughout the manufacturing process.
  3. Data: Smart manufacturing is all about data. After all, that’s where leadership teams get their information to make smart business decisions. As technology continues to evolve, so, too, will data collection. With it, companies can get a better sense of where and how operations must change as well as what materials to use.
  4. Predictive Engineering: Traditional manufacturing uses past history and data to influence what, how, and when something is produced. Smart manufacturing focuses attention on the future rather than the past. While engineers still use knowledge from past events, their approaches are more proactive than reactive. They use data to determine what market trends might look like eventually so that companies are more efficient in creating products to meet that new demand.
  5. Sustainability: One way in which manufacturing companies can save time and money while protecting the planet is through sustainability efforts. They may find ways to alter processes to conserve waste material produced during manufacturing. For example, they may modify the way in which a material is cut for parts so that they can create the same number of products with less material. This, in turn, will lessen the amount of waste the company sends to the landfill.
  6. Resource Sharing and Networking: As manufacturing companies come up with new smart factory ideas and processes, they can share these across the industry without delving too much into their secrets for staying ahead of the competition. For example, if they discover a new way to create a product, they can let others in the industry know. The expanding use of 3D printers across the manufacturing industry is an example. Attending a smart manufacturing conference is a great place to learn some of these new ideas—but more on that later. First, let’s take a look at a few of the smart manufacturing trends for this year.

What Are the Smart Manufacturing Trends for 2023 and Beyond?

Below are just a few of the key trends projected for 2023:

  • Expansion of remote and off-site operations: According to a McKinsey study done in early 2022, 58% of Americans were able to work from home at least one day a week. This capability has extended to the manufacturing industry as well. In 2023, companies will continue to figure out how IoT can be used in manufacturing for analyzing data and performing virtual maintenance with digital twin technology.
  • Increased proactivity and efficiency: Many companies have had to make budget cuts in the last few years. To better conserve their money, many have started looking into ways to minimize downtime and catch problems before they progress into something more serious.
  • Adoption of AI and VR technologies: While fast becoming an integral part of smart manufacturing, they are still relatively new. Companies will continue to learn about and adopt them into day-to-day operations for improved forecasting and maintenance.
  • Implementation of cybersecurity: With a more digitized manufacturing process comes more risk of cyber attacks. In fact, 23.2% of attacks happen in the manufacturing industry. Companies will have to take the necessary steps to protect their tech stacks and to keep up with any cybersecurity regulations.

These are just a few trends that your company should start thinking about in 2023. If you want to learn more about what the smart manufacturing market forecast looks like, attending a conference is a good place to start.

What Are the Benefits of Smart Manufacturing Conferences?

One of the biggest benefits of attending smart manufacturing conferences is to stay up-to-date with any new technologies used in the industry. Keeping up with these emerging technologies will not only improve the quality of your products and the efficiency of your workflows, but it will also keep your company competitive. As customers continue to look for ways to get the most for their money, your company must work to continually improve quality and productivity.

Another major advantage of attending conferences for smart manufacturing is networking. You can build connections with other professionals and meet industry leaders. You’ll be able to learn best practices, ask questions, and work through any issues you’ve run into face-to-face rather than having to learn everything from articles online or in print.

Conferences also give you an opportunity to hone your presentation skills. Whether you actually present, give a pitch, network, or discuss your resume with an industry leader, you’ll gain experience in speaking clearly, concisely, and persuasively. You’ll also gain confidence in speaking in front of others. The Rally Innovation Conference in Indianapolis later this year will give you a chance to pitch your innovative manufacturing ideas and not only gain some presentation experience, but also the chance to win a $1 million cash investment.

What Is the Rally Innovation Conference?

The Rally Innovation Conference is the largest cross-sector innovation conference in the world. It will take place August 29-31, 2023. Professionals, higher education administrators, professors, entrepreneurs, financial advisors, and investors alike can gather in one place to share their ideas and forge connections with one another. This conference targets six different industries:

  1. Manufacturing
  2. Agriculture
  3. Education
  4. Healthcare
  5. Software
  6. Sports

It gives people across industries a chance to collaborate and assists investors and companies in finding one another. These cross-sector connections drive innovation because they expose you to ideas from other industries that you might not otherwise interact with. Plus, you’ll hear from several of the over 200 speakers presenting on best practices and the latest technologies. Between presentations at the conference, you can head to the Demo Arena to check out innovative products and services to get ideas of your own.

Want to Up Your Smart Manufacturing Game? Attend Rally

Smart manufacturing is all about constant innovation. Gathering ideas from within your company will only get you so far, though. You need to hear from professionals across countries and industries to truly implement forward thinking plans. Rally makes it easy to do that. To learn more and to sign up, visit our website.