Smart manufacturing benefits for system integrators

Transitioning from technology integration to value integration gives system integrators a chance to demonstrate smart manufacturing’s benefits for manufacturing enterprises.

By John Boville and Stephen March, Schneider Electric February 28, 2018

Smart manufacturing brings a new generation of industrial productivity driven by advances in connectivity, cloud computing, Big Data analytics, mobility, and other solutions from maturing digital technology. While most experts agree smart manufacturing holds promise on the surface, many are looking for evidence and examples of how digital technology can improve business models. They want measurable solutions that safely improve their operational profitability. This provides a great opportunity for system integrators.

Though industrial companies and industrial plants typically have business objectives in mind when they engage a system integrator, those objectives are seldom articulated, which makes the bottom line impact a leap of faith. Through the demonstration of smart manufacturing approaches, integrators can now show how solutions directly impact the bottom line to help manufacturers achieve business goals—especially those related to safety, profitability, security, reliability, and productivity.

System integrators can work with clients to identify the measures of success, and to control and manage the achievement of business metrics in real time. By leveraging this technique, system integrators will develop a significant advantage in winning the next generation of industrial automation projects. 

Managing and controlling asset performance

As more devices gain intelligence and connectivity via the Internet of Things (IoT), a richer supply of data has become available to plant operators. While devices have more embedded intelligence and can provide more real-time data, many organizations have become mired in the deluge of data and have no clear way to use this information to improve business operations. There are two levels of opportunity for system integrators to help their clients improve asset performance:

The lower level is where decisions must be made within set time frames of the processes being controlled. For example, trying to control the flow in a pipe that is only being measured once a month. Integrators won’t be able to control the entire process, because variables such as temperature and pressure are changing in real time. The key components of business value must be aligned with real-time control. This is where system integrators can work with clients to apply closed-loop control principles with smart manufacturing technology to empower their workforce to make real-time decisions on complex business variables, including those that have been historically transactional, to improve performance and ultimately the profitability of their operations.

Not every component of business value is subject to real-time automation, which is the second level of opportunity for system integrators. At this level, system integrators can provide additional business value by collaborating with clients to review business operations in each domain. System integrators can work with clients to review, analyze, and assess the value of the technology they have in place and its effect on each value domain.

To integrate effective asset control and management, system integrators and their clients should view the plant in terms of asset hierarchies from the bottom up to determine each asset’s potential impact on performance and profitability.

Integrating the bottom line

Switching from technology integration to value integration is not a simple task. For integrators and their clients, it represents a significant change in practice and culture. Today’s digital manufacturing environment presents new opportunities for data collection from smart monitoring and control devices that collect, archive, and analyze critical data. To assist in the process, system integrators can embed algorithms into machine controls to draw on real-time production data stored in plant historians and databases. Software tools with integrated dashboards, for example, can translate data for analysis and report on the performance of individual assets and asset sets to provide a view into the health of systems that impact entire manufacturing processes.

With enhanced technology resources, companies can migrate away from the traditional control hierarchy that has historically dominated industrial control to actual plant asset topology, to an asset-centric architecture that controls everything including safety, profitability, security, reliability, and productivity.

By demonstrating the value proposition of this unified strategy, system integrators have an opportunity to help clients apply enhanced layers of control to achieve measurable operational improvements throughout an enterprise.

John Boville is the industry marketing manager of the process automation innovation and marketing team at Schneider Electric; Stephen March is the national director of SI alliance and automation distributor partners at Schneider Electric. Edited by Emily Guenther, associate content manager, CFE Media,