Accelerating the adoption of smart manufacturing in the U.S.

Smart manufacturing technology can integrate supply chains, improve quality, customization, safety and sustainability, but widespread adoption remains a challenge.

By Chris Vavra August 31, 2023
Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Smart manufacturing insights

  • Smart manufacturing has great potential in manufacturing and can enhance operations in many ways, but companies struggle with implementing even though they recognize its benefits.
  • Developing a solid and thorough plan that identifies areas where the company can improve and builds a strategy around that is a good first step.

Smart manufacturing offers tremendous potential for manufacturers and can enhance their operations, but adoption remains a challenge for many companies.

“The notion of Industry 4.0 and digital transformation is kind of difficult to rationalize and dovetail into our way of thinking,” said John Dyck, CEO of CESMII in his keynote speech “The Urgent Need To Accelerate The Adoption Of Smart Manufacturing In The US,” at the Automotive Smart Manufacturing 4.0 USA Summit 2023 in Detroit. “We’ve been using data forever to solve our problems, but now it’s about doing it in a more cost-effective way.”

John Dyck, CEO of CESMII in his keynote speech “The Urgent Need To Accelerate The Adoption Of Smart Manufacturing In The US. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

John Dyck, CEO of CESMII in his keynote speech “The Urgent Need To Accelerate The Adoption Of Smart Manufacturing In The US. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

CESMII, created in 2017 by the Federal government, is about accelerating the democratization of smart manufacturing, reducing costs and the complexity around smart manufacturing.

There’s an urgent need to improve manufacturing, Dyck said. Manufacturing productivity had been experiencing steady growth from the 1980s to the early 2010s. Since then, it has either plateaued and, in some cases, declined. The lack of younger workers, combined with the older workforce retiring, has put a serious crunch on productivity.

We absolutely need to take care of and address this,” Dyck said.

The rise of Industry 4.0, or the fourth industrial revolution, is designed to address these problems by improving information flow throughout an enterprise and give users the information they need. More devices than ever are connected to the internet and is giving manufacturers more data to work with.

Smart manufacturing can help, Dyck said, but accessibility remains a problem. Many large-scale manufacturers have the capabilities and bandwidth to take advantage of smart manufacturers. The smaller manufacturers, which make up a vast majority of the companies that exist out there, don’t have the capabilities. “There’s a huge digital divide,” Dyck said. “This technical debt makes the capabilities deploying today not accessible for small-and medium-sized manufacturers.”

This is an especially acute problem in the United States, Dyck said, compared to other parts of the world. “We’ve absolutely fallen behind the rest of the world in Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing. Europe and Asia are outstripping their initial investment.”

Smart manufacturing challenges remain

The world does recognize smart manufacturing and adoption is increasing, said Ben Stewart, VP strategy and business development for PLEX in his presentation “The State Of Smart Manufacturing: Practical Steps To A Real-World Digital Transformation.”

Ben Stewart, VP strategy and business development for PLEX in his presentation “The State Of Smart Manufacturing: Practical Steps To A Real-World Digital Transformation.” Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Ben Stewart, VP strategy and business development for PLEX in his presentation “The State Of Smart Manufacturing: Practical Steps To A Real-World Digital Transformation.” Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

While they recognize the need, business challenges remain as companies continue adjusting to the new reality after the COVID-19 pandemic. A lack of skilled workers remains an issue and the supply chain continues to have issues.

Another challenge companies face, Stewart said, is they are overwhelmed with choice. They don’t know where to start.

“The range of available systems is leading to a technology paralysis,” Stewart said.

Other internal challenges include balancing quality and growth, deploying and integrating new technology and getting workers to understand and embrace these changes. The resistance in the latter case also applies to younger workers who aren’t interested in working with old technology and don’t realize what they could be working with if they accept a plant floor job.

“You have to make it more interesting to them because they want to interact and so you have to make it more automated and less manual,” he said.

Developing a strong smart manufacturing plan requires involvement from many stakeholders and a thorough, well-researched plan. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Developing a strong smart manufacturing plan requires involvement from many stakeholders and a thorough, well-researched plan. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

Five steps to developing a smart manufacturing plan

Choosing the right technology is hard enough, but knowing what to do or where to start is just as daunting. Many facilities have challenges and issues they can improve on. That’s not unique or uncommon to the industries. Getting started with a smart manufacturing plan, Stewart said, consists of five steps:

  1. Identify key stakeholders and agree on the company’s greatest need. The stakeholders involved should include decision-makers and system users who can find a place where they’re weak or where they can improve the most in a short period of time in a way that’s easily quantifiable.

  2. Build the business case for investment. This can be done by highlighting how smart manufacturing will increase control, efficiency and savings. It’s also important to highlight how the plan will reduce risk and improve security.

  3. Research and select the solution(s). Thorough research will help narrow down the potential solutions and make everyone better prepared to address questions to the stakeholders.

  4. Design and deploy the solution(s). Pick an implementation partner and create the roadmap for a successful process all stakeholders can agree on.

  5. Manage change, measure results and drive adoptions. Companies need to determine what will define success and who will be the main advocate.

Improving interoperability and communication

For a long time, the Purdue Model has been the model for collecting and sending information up the ladder in a linear fashion. While valuable and successful, Dyck said, it only goes so far when it comes to information.

A more interoperable method, he said, using a smart manufacturing infrastructure, allows all of the data to be sent up the ladder, but also together.

A more interoperable way of sending information is key to making smart manufacturing successful. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

A more interoperable way of sending information is key to making smart manufacturing successful. Courtesy: Chris Vavra, CFE Media and Technology

“Interoperability promotes growth across the stack and improve growth across the model,” Dyck said. “We need to put together a systematic and holistic approach.”

There is an enormous opportunity to collectively engage the knowledge, the capabilities and raise the tide for all boats,” Dyck said. “We need to be more educated on the technical debt we’ve accumulated and move forward in a more agile and intelligent manner.”

Chris Vavra, web content manager, CFE Media and Technology, cvavra@cfemedia.com.


Author Bio: Chris Vavra is senior editor for WTWH Media LLC.