One of the main promises of Industry 4.0 is to use digital technology to harness data to unlock business value from machines. The vision of “smart manufacturing” has been partially realized through digital technology and its seamless and efficient connection of the Industrial Internet of Things (IloT). Manufacturers now employ various levels of automation and collect and have access to voluminous amounts of data on their operations. The number of manufacturing IoT connections is expected to more than double from 2020 to 2025.

But significant barriers remain for how to use that data. Many manufacturers face expensive and time-consuming integrations of platforms and software, whether it’s upgrading current workhorse machines or applying predictive analytics for robotics and advanced automation systems.

The democratization of Industry 4.0 – making it more accessible –  is key for harnessing the collaborative innovation that fosters U.S. technical leadership in advanced manufacturing. It is critical for rebuilding the supply chain, workforce education, and ensuring small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs) remain the foundation of a strong economy and secure nation.

Manufacturing USA® is a network of 16 institutes and their sponsoring federal agencies — the Departments of Commerce, Defense and Energy. It was created in 2014 with smart manufacturing in mind, and its mission is to secure U.S. global leadership in advanced manufacturing by connecting people, ideas, and technology.

The Importance of Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

The manufacturing software industry has long been challenged by the lack of standards around data contextualization. This has resulted in manufacturers having a handful of different information systems, plant floor connections and user databases. It also has made it difficult and often cost-prohibitive to deploy additional solutions. Consolidation and standardization are inevitable, as security and scalability concerns will eventually win out.

But arriving at frictionless movement of information – raw and contextualized data – between real-time operations and people and systems across manufacturing organizations is extremely difficult. There are mechanisms for extracting, storing or organizing data, and those methods will initially need to be retrofitted. Some legacy vendors may be reluctant to change, because of the sunk cost they have in their own stack.

Manufacturers face three common problems with digital transformation:

  • Current technologies often lock manufacturers into the unique configuration of each vendor solution. Systems don’t talk to each other.
  • The current workforce isn’t ready to grapple with a digital transformation and handle their day jobs.
  • Solutions delivered today, without standardized information models, regardless of the source, have a linear scale factor – the solution for one machine will cost 10X when rolled out over 10 machines, resulting in high costs in both resources and budgets.

Here’s a look at how several of these manufacturing institutes are directly engaged in breaking down barriers to digital technology adoption and providing vendor-agnostic plug-and-play platforms for smart manufacturing.

Where the Manufacturing Institutes Come In

These institute programs are at the forefront of transforming of smart manufacturing:

  • CESMII the Smart Manufacturing Institute, is leading an effort on the standardization of interoperability and data modeling. They have developed the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform and are operating a network of Smart Manufacturing Innovation Centers as regional demonstration and education centers.
  • ARM (Advanced Robotics for Manufacturing), is working to make robotics and AI more accessible to manufacturers of all sizes and is breaking down proprietary barriers that make it difficult to integrate systems.
  • MxD (Manufacturing times Digital) is helping establish the digital feedback loop that enables manufacturers to build every part better than the last, from the shop floor across the supply chain, and provides the knowhow and tools to remain cyber secure even while increasing connectivity.
  • LIFT, which focuses on lightweight materials and manufacturing processes, is helping develop a digital twin factory cell to validate new technology implementation.

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform and Marketplace

The plug-and-play smart manufacturing opportunity for CESMII and its members is to ensure that consolidation happens around open standards and specifications so the power of information and innovation is available to all manufacturers. Their platform and marketplace is based on building data models (profiles), crowd sourcing them, and marketing the apps that support them.

For example, if a system integrator builds a robot profile, and a data scientist builds a predictive model for the same robot, the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform allows every manufacturer with that robot to access the profile and make use of the predictive analytics, without the need for manual configuration or access to domain experts. A manufacturer could use those elements to have new systems up and running within minutes instead of an expensive and lengthy period of system integration.

This radically accelerates the development and adoption of advanced sensors, controls, platforms, and models to deliver real-time business improvements in manufacturing. The sharing of insights, removing barriers and making the complex simple provides a path for SMMs to be more efficient, productive and competitive.

The Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform presents a significant opportunity for SMMs to layer analytics into their existing systems. As the CESMII profile standards are adopted by automation vendors, new equipment and systems will ultimately be delivered with context built in, and Plug and Play will finally be a reality in the world of industry.

A Future of Robots and People Working Together

One of the biggest challenges for SMMs in working with robots is the proprietary nature of the systems. Robots and robotic components from different manufacturers don’t “talk” to each other, which greatly reduces flexibility and increases complexity for an SMM who doesn’t have the staff or skills to manage all of these different components. 

Here are three ARM-funded initiatives that are mitigating these disconnects:

  • The teach pendant is the most common method to operate, control, and program industrial robots, yet teach pendants are vendor specific and do not usually work with additional sensor inputs such as machine vision and torque sensors. The “Teach Pendant”project aims to bridge this gap with an open-source approach.
  • The “Automated Defect Inspection for Complex Metallic Parts”has yielded impressive results, including detection rates above 95%, and an expected 345% return on investment if deployed at one site. GKN Aerospace is adopting the technology and has already built the developed inspection cell in a factory.
  • The global apparel industry is dependent on manual labor due to difficulties in handling limp textiles. The “Robotic Assembly of Garments”has taken the first steps in revolutionizing this industry via a new robotic assembly process that temporarily stiffens garment pieces by laminating its fabric with water-soluble thermoplastic polymer, thus, making automation more accessible to this industry sector.

A Future Factory On Display

MxD’s 22,000 square-foot factory floor in Chicago allows manufacturers of all sizes to experience IoT in a familiar environment. With some of the most advanced hardware and software available, the technology on display can both inspire a long-term digital journey and catalyze immediate action through small first steps.

For SMMs that may be both budget- and time-constrained, two examples of simple IoT retrofits provide compelling examples of where to start:

  • The MxD’s in-house air pressure system digitizes a common piece of analog data. This basic, low-cost system takes information that is typically monitored onsite at irregular intervals into a constant stream of data that is updated at intervals of less than one second and can be monitored from anywhere.
  • A sensor installed in the power panel of a knee-and-column mill, a type of vertical mill whose design has remained essentially unchanged since the 1930s, allows the detection of the machine’s cutting load and its on/off state.

With a minimal investment in IoT, the activity and power consumption of legacy equipment can be monitored, bringing potential for improved capacity planning and shop floor scheduling among many other use cases.

Simulation Will Drastically Lower Costs of Implementation

LIFT’s digital twin research and development is a facet of “smarter manufacturing” – the connection between materials, manufacturing processes, systems, and talent. A digital twin allows operators to predict behavior, optimize performance, and implement insights from previous design and production experiences. 

Through simulation, The Digital Twin Smart Factory Showcase, designed and launched in partnership with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Siemens Digital Industries, will allow LIFT to help increase preparedness and adoption of smarter manufacturing technology, particularly among small- and medium-sized manufacturers (SMMs). It will identify efficiencies and opportunities to reduce cost in advance of new technology implementation.

Plug-and-Play Technology Shows Promise of Advanced Manufacturing

The manufacturing innovation institutes are exploring ways to incorporate automation and digital manufacturing into their respective and different industry sectors. The work in leveraging data in order to make Industry 4.0 attainable for all manufacturers demonstrates the value of the large-scale support for innovation that institutes in the Manufacturing USA network are providing to the U.S manufacturing sector.

In 2020, 16 manufacturing innovation institutes collectively worked with over 2,000 member organizations to collaborate on more than 500 major research and development projects and engaged over 70,000 people in building workforce knowledge and skills in advanced manufacturing. State, industry and federal funds contributed $400 million to these activities.

To join the innovation revolution, visit the institutes’ page and learn more about the advanced manufacturing technologies they accelerate.

Related: PowerAmerica and the Future Generation

“CESMII the Smart Manufacturing Institute, is leading an effort on the standardization of interoperability and data modeling. They have developed the Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform and are operating a network of Smart Manufacturing Innovation Centers as regional demonstration and education centers.”

Photo courtesy of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. A team at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is working with industry partners to develop a process for collecting operational data from a broad range of manufacturing systems for use in the CESMII Smart Manufacturing Innovation Platform.