Over the past few years, the concept of smart manufacturing has been evolving among early adopters, expert practitioners, and industry strategists. Organizations where leaders collaborate on this work—including The U.S. Smart Manufacturing Institute (CESMII), The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and MESA International—have been providing guidelines and documenting the progress of manufacturers.

They have all agreed on key ingredients for smart manufacturing including real-time integration and information-driven collaboration for a highly efficient digital manufacturing ecosystem.

According to a 2016 report by NIST, “Smart manufacturing systems are ‘fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs.’”

Rik Geerts, member of several MESA International working groups and the International Board of Directors, wrote, “Smart manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain.”

Democratization of technology happens when it becomes available for mass adoption because it’s practical to implement for the average manufacturer. Many of the technologies required for smart manufacturing are now affordable, yet the cost of implementation and integration continues to be a barrier to wide adoption. The next step is to remove the barriers for adoption in an ecosystem that includes many small- and medium-sized manufacturers.

It’s necessary to provide wide access to the knowledge required to implement the strategies and leverage the solutions. Smart manufacturing researchers, architects, and practitioners in the CESMII community have been focused on developing, implementing, and refining the methodologies. CESMII is releasing an updated definition of smart manufacturing, which is very similar to MESA International’s definition, and is providing additional guidance to help industry and educators accelerate adoption. Their 2020 release states, “Smart manufacturing is the information-driven, event-driven, efficient, and collaborative orchestration of business, physical and digital processes within plants, factories, and across the entire value chain.”

Resources and processes are integrated, monitored, and continuously evaluated with the sensing, information, process modeling, predictive analytics, and workflows needed to automate routine actions and prescribe actions for non-routine situations.

In smart manufacturing, organizations, people, and technology work in synergy via business and manufacturing processes and technology-based solutions that strive to be:

  • secure,
  • scalable,
  • flat and real-time,
  • open and interoperable,
  • proactive and semi-autonomous,
  • orchestrated and resilient, and
  • sustainable and energy efficient.

When all these design imperatives are considered in smart manufacturing initiatives, the organization realizes not only traditional performance improvement benefits like higher levels of productivity, asset reliability, and product quality—they also realize more strategic benefits like transparency, speed, collaboration, agility, innovation, and resiliency.

Transparency, speed, and collaboration are all linked in smart manufacturing. Information flow must be designed so that raw data can be contextualized into information and analyzed for insights which are provided back to multiple systems in the manufacturing ecosystem. Insights drive event-driven autonomous actions for routine situations and enhanced human decisions for non-routine situations with higher levels of transparency and speed.

Higher levels of connectivity and information enable an organization to: enhance operating models, provide more personalized product and service offerings, and innovate partner ecosystems to drive higher revenue and customer value.

Smart manufacturing solutions use modular systems and are integrated with open interoperable APIs that can easily reconfigure to scale production up or down, introduce new products, and create one-off production runs or high-mix manufacturing opportunities. This agility makes the organization adaptable to changes in demand and more resilient to market disruptions.

We encourage everyone to learn more and get involved with these organizations. MESA International is creating guidance on how to apply smart manufacturing standards as well as justify and architect solutions. CESMII is using their unique ecosystem to accelerate the democratization of smart manufacturing, to provide a platform for development and testing and drive implementation by manufacturers through co-funded innovation projects.