Smart manufacturing is not a thing; it’s a convergence of things

Smart manufacturing is a convergence of capabilities from multiple areas to enhance productivity. Smart manufacturing is where smart business processes converge with smart operational processes, smart equipment, and smart product definitions.


Figure 1: An example of a supply chain using the Supply Chain Council (SCOR) model. Courtesy: BR&L ConsultingSmart manufacturing is growing in popularity, although it can still be a confusing concept. To some people smart manufacturing is applying the technology of smartphones, smart houses, and smart cars to manufacturing equipment. For others, it is applying information technologies in supply chains and product development or the development of smart products. There are many definitions of smart manufacturing because it is not just a single thing, but a convergence of capabilities from multiple areas. This convergence has the potential to bring massive productivity enhancements as traditional manufacturing moves to smart manufacturing.

Manufacturing is at the center of many different business lifecycles. There are business lifecycles for the product development, process equipment (assets), order management, supply chain management, and security management. Each of these activity lifecycles has an element of production or operation. 

Supply chain management lifecycle

There are multiple definitions for the supply chain lifecycle, but a commonly used definition is the Supply Chain Council (SCOR) model. In the SCOR model, the center activity is "make," which is the process that transforms products to a finished state to meet planned or actual demand. SCOR does not attempt to describe every business process or activity, just those involved in obtaining raw materials, converting them into finished products, delivering them to the customer, and tracking all of the raw and final materials (see Figure 1).

The idea of a smart supply chain is not new; it has been discussed since 2010. A smart supply chain has pervasive data collection to provide real-time quantity and location inventory information down to the case or individual product level. A smart supply chain provides:

  • Connections to planning
  • Supplier partners
  • Delivery partners 
  • Final customers
  • Service centers
  • Production floor
  • Improved supply chain decision-making through advanced analytics and planning optimization.

The "make" activity is in the center of a smart supply chain, connecting operations information (production, quality, inventory, and maintenance) to the enterprise. One part of smart manufacturing is integration with smart supply chains, providing real-time information for raw material, and final product tracking and tracing. Smart manufacturing also provides product serialization information for regulated industries.

Asset lifecycle management

Asset lifecycle management defines the activities associated with acquiring production equipment, operating the equipment, and decommissioning the equipment. There are multiple asset lifecycle management models, but they all follow the general structure of:

  1. Starting with planning the purchase or development of the production asset
  2. Acquiring or developing the asset (including the control programming required) 
  3. Installing the asset
  4. Operating and maintaining the asset
  5. Finally decommissioning and disposing of the asset (see Figure 2).

Smart asset management involves two elements: the development or acquisition of smart manufacturing equipment, and the integration of smart equipment information into the asset management lifecycle. Smart manufacturing equipment is equipment that can be easily reconfigured through software to manage different products. Examples include recipe controlled processes, reconfigurable palletizing and cartooning equipment, general purpose assembly robots, and other devices that are not specifically designed for one product. Business owners are demanding more flexibility in their production facilities, and the implementation of reconfigurable software equipment is addressing that need.

Figure 2: The basic structure of an asset lifecycle management model. Courtesy: BR&L Consulting

Smart production equipment is connected to the enterprise asset management and maintenance management systems, providing real-time visibility into the state and status of the maintenance and operating assets of the company. Smart manufacturing involves integration with smart production equipment, providing for software reconfiguration of equipment, and connectivity into other corporate systems. 

Product lifecycle management

Product lifecycle management (PLM) involves the process of managing all of the information about a product, including the concept and design, production, and disposal. PLM has been used to improve product development, production, and maintenance for the past 25 years, and the latest adaptation is smart product lifecycle management, with an emphasis on smart products (see Figure 3).

Figure 3: The basic structure of product lifecycle management. Courtesy: BR&L Consulting

Smart products are products that are designed for quick customization at the late stages of production to allow for the detection of problems, online or intrinsic access to service information, and integration with service and support systems. Product customization at the late stages of production provides for better scheduling flexibility and the ability to quickly respond to customer demands. This is commonly addressed in the process industries through the use of ANSI/ISA-88 recipes and batch management. In the discrete, continuous, and hybrid manufacturing industries it is commonly accomplished through reconfigurable software production equipment, with parameters and instructions downloaded to smart assets in real-time as the production orders are executed. Examples of late-stage production customization are user options, colors, packaging materials, final product container size and shape, and product grades.

Order-to-cash lifecycle management

The order-to-cash (OTC) lifecycle starts with customer orders, scheduling the production of the product, shipping the product, invoicing the customer, and ends with receiving the customer's payment. OTC processes touch multiple key business performance areas: sales order management, order fulfillment, billing, credit management, and cash collection (see Figure 4).

Figure 4: The structure of order-to-cash (OTC) lifecycle management. Courtesy: BR&L Consulting

Order management has traditionally been handled through an enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, with links to supplier systems, production systems, shipping systems, and invoicing systems. In the middle of the OTC lifecycle is the "make" activity.

Smart OTC lifecycle management involves collecting all information about orders and customers, from initial entry to final payment, such that the scheduling, making, shipping, and invoicing provide tracking and tracing information throughout the entire order lifecycle. In the "make" section of the lifecycle, this involves retaining information about target production and reports on actual production. 

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