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Why Manufactures Are Struggling to Become “Smart”

Smart manufacturing is nothing new. However, with the growth of smart manufacturing predicted to peak at $299 billion by 2023, the outlook is positive. As technologies develop like AI, collaborative robots and industrial machine vision, these concepts get implemented in a manufacturing environment, hence the term smart manufacturing. However, smart manufacturing is much more than the core physical technology. Smart manufacturing also involves data.


It is how this data is collated, analyzed and utilized that will empower organizations to make their production processes more efficient. More manufacturers than ever are aiming to introduce and improve their smart technology and data capabilities. However, with these massive technological changes come massive challenges. Many manufacturers have chosen to take a foray into the world of smart manufacturing, but many still remain resistant to this change. Take a look at why certain manufacturers are struggling to become smart. Many industries such as aerospace, defense, nuclear, mining, automotive and engineering are trying to welcome smart manufacturing with open arms.


Automotive

The car industry purchased over 60,000 new robots three years ago in an effort to embrace smart manufacturing. Many workers assume that this means that their roles will become defunct, leading to resistance to this technological change. However, when these robots were purchased to make production processes more efficient, the need for skilled engineers and factory works in the automotive industries also increased. This is the polar opposite to public perception. While one of the challenges to becoming smart might be changing the culture or attitudes of a company, the evidence for the need for human roles is self evident. The most robot dense manufacturing environments such as Japan and South Korea, have seen their unemployment statistics fall.


Data

A major aspect of smart manufacturing is data. Utilizing data effectively can enhance processes, make production more efficient, increase the longevity of machinery and increase profits. Smart factories use data to create virtual environments making it easier to mitigate risk, anticipate trading lulls and increase productivity on the factory floor. Data also enables manufacturers to streamline their processes and create a greater number of higher quality components and products.


Deploying smart technologies in ad hoc environments as pilots is relatively easy. However, when deploying at scale across all sites or across an entire business, smart manufacturing can be more of a challenge leading many manufacturers struggling to become smart. People and workers need to change and adapt their working processes to welcome in smart manufacturing processes. Skill sets need to be enhanced and training needs to be undertaken to learn how to work alongside machines and collaborative robots. Businesses and manufacturers need to be willing to work on this alongside welcoming smart technology and data analytics into their factories.


Many manufacturers, however, are not investing quickly enough, meaning skills gaps develop and the technology that has cost so much isn’t implemented as efficiently as possible. And alongside the need for more advanced technology and analytical minds comes the need for enhanced cybersecurity. Data and files need to be stored in a secure cloud based environment. Data needs to be encrypted and made safe from threats such as ransomware and malware attacks. It’s all too easy to have a smart manufacturing environment, but you need to protect your infrastructure and understand newer and more prominent twenty first century threats.


Resistance

Many manufacturing businesses remain complacent and aren’t willing to change the processes that have worked effectively for decades. Even though these processes don’t cause problems it doesn’t mean that they are at their optimum. With enhanced technology and data utilization, processes can force a manufacturing environment to become even more productive. Owners often feel like they don’t have to change. And while they might not have to now, as their rivals begin to welcome more smart ways of working, they will find themselves becoming obsolete after being left behind.


Adidas has tried to morph its manufacturing from large central warehouses and production lines that ship globally to something more customized and local. This aims to create a shoe that is more aligned to the customer. Individuals are keen to do business with more local and personalized firms and larger companies like Adidas are trying to tap into this psyche by using smart manufacturing processes.


Customer Perception

With climate change emerging, many customers assume that the utilization of machines increases harmful greenhouse gas production, which doesn’t always have to be the case. It also has the dreaded PR problem of being a replacement for humans. People tend to be untrusting of machinery, data and technology. Customers want to hear a human voice at the end of the phone rather than chat with a bot over the Internet.


The concept of a faceless corporate entity now fills customers with dread. They want to know where their products are coming from and how they are produced. The entire supply chain needs to be honest and transparent. Manufacturers need to take notice of the smaller businesses around them and utilize some of their public relations processes. Technology is not the evil entity that many think, but it is up to manufacturers to get this message across to their target markets.


3D printing, industrial vision technology, artificial intelligence, andon systems, and collaborative robots are bringing greater efficiencies and productivity to the manufacturing world. Humans are working alongside these machines and the best manufacturing employers’ are delivering custom and career enhancing training to empower their staff to welcome the change to their working practices. With those individuals who can analyze data as part of the manufacturing team, businesses can enjoy greater foresight when launching new products and components.


The key benefit of smart manufacturing, even if you remove the enhanced technology, is the data that can be analyzed to increase productivity and enhance efficiencies. This, in itself, is an incredible asset to manufacturers of all sizes across the globe.


With the smart manufacturing sphere increasing in the next five years, more and more production lines will become more productive and will be willing to take a punt on technology and data.