The world of manufacturing is undergoing a significant step change. Smart technologies are merging to create new AI solutions, digital twins, digital threads, industrial IoT, AR/VR solutions and more. Industry leaders are using these smart technologies in creating the Fourth Industrial Revolution (Industry 4.0) and driving economic growth through digital transformation and smart manufacturing. 

U.S. manufacturing had been on the decline for years before the Covid-19 pandemic hit. Deloitte’s 2021 manufacturing industry outlook forecasts a slow recovery to pre-pandemic levels, noting that investing in digital initiatives may be the best way for manufacturers to circumnavigate disruptions in production and supply chains while building resilience to thrive in an uncertain future.  

Forbes Technology Council member John Clemons is a manufacturing IT consultant for Rockwell Automation who has been working in the manufacturing information technology space for almost 40 years. He said that smart manufacturing powered by digital transformation has the potential to transform manufacturing back into an economic powerhouse.

“For many years, it’s seemed that manufacturing was in a decline. Manufacturing was old, ugly, smelly and no one wanted it, especially in their backyard. But smart manufacturing, along with a lot of smart people, is transforming manufacturing, recreating it as high-tech, internet-driven, information-driven, people-oriented industries,” he said. MORE FOR YOU: Manufacturing Can Be The Engine Of Global Recovery – Here’s HowSix Manufacturing Tech Trends To Look For In 2021Smart Manufacturing Could Turbocharge U.S. Global Competitiveness

Having provided thought leadership and executed projects for Fortune 500 clients in smart manufacturing, digital transformation and Industry 4.0 long before those terms were used, Clemons also authored a leading book on manufacturing information technology, titled Information Technology for Manufacturing: Reducing Costs and Expanding Capabilities. He is also on the executive committee for MESA (Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association) International, having been instrumental in developing manufacturing execution system (MES) models and thought leadership in smart manufacturing.

“At Rockwell Automation, we practice what we preach,” Clemons said. The company executed a digital transformation consisting of a wide range of manufacturing IT solutions – enterprise resource planning (ERP), MES, enterprise manufacturing intelligence (EMI), descriptive analytics, digital twins, machine learning, augmented reality, virtual reality and more – in its own manufacturing facilities, with benefits including a 40% improvement in quality, a 50% reduction in lead times and an increase in on-time delivery from 82% to 96%.

Though the benefits of smart manufacturing include better production efficiency, yield and asset utilization with significantly reduced costs and safety hazards, Clemons said most digital transformation programs aren’t currently going fast or far enough to support industry leaders’ aspirations. 

Clemons urges manufacturers to initiate digital transformation right now. “Get started anywhere. Get started everywhere. Get started in several places all at once. But just get started.” He recommends The Smart Manufacturing Institute (CESMII), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and MESA International as essential resources. 

According to Clemons, smart manufacturing is ultimately all about creating real, tangible dollar value for businesses. While it’s powered by a lot of new technology and brings the power of technology into the manufacturing plant, in the end, smart manufacturing isn’t about the technology; it’s about the business value that it brings to the company. “That’s why smart manufacturing makes sense and leaders need to take a close look,” Clemons said. “It’s real and it’s making a big impact on the world of manufacturing.”

For more information, check out John Clemon’s executive profile here. To learn more about Forbes Technology Council and see if you qualify for membership, click here.