Portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689 (age 46) by Godfrey Kneller

Portrait of Isaac Newton in 1689 (age 46) by Godfrey Kneller

There is plenty of buzz around the notion of Smart Manufacturing, but what exactly does the expression mean? There have been plenty of smart people that for decades have been delivering manufacturing solutions that would be unfairly described as intellectually-challenged manufacturing. You may find many formal, and lengthy, definitions of Smart Manufacturing, but I like to define it as anything that “enables proactive manufacturing enterprise execution.” We are at our smartest when we use the technology to anticipate and deliver.

Sir Isaac Newton whether by his acknowledged genius or by the good fortune to be near a falling apple is credited with one of my favorite quotes, “If I have seen further than others it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”

Smart Manufacturing Seeks Broad Shoulders for Long Term Relationship

I, like many others, do believe that we are at a pivot-point associated with the capability of manufacturing and that a set of broad shoulders has emerged to support the transformation. New levels of connectivity, powerful advanced computing, smarter sensors and devices, improved data storage and prescriptive analytics are all transforming the execution capability of our manufacturing environments. These advances literally support a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change the way manufacturing operates at the equipment process level through the over-arching supply chain.

There are a myriad of examples of how technology has accelerated the pace of change for the good. Adding sensors and connectivity to plant floor equipment to provide incremental insight used to require a formal budgeting cycle to support the capital investment in things like wiring trays and physical infrastructure. Today the same problem would be solved in a fraction of the time and cost with secure, wireless capability in both networks and sensors. What was once a multi-year physical plant project feels like an assignment for an engineering co-op student.

Historically these connections would include phrases such as polling rates and lengthy IT discussions and plans around data retention and disk space. The smart manufacturing view is that the equipment will be provide insights on its own through contextual reporting and not simply respond to a query for the current value. Today’s data storage and retrieval have a liquid feel with no real constraints on data retention thresholds. Analytics have moved from “aggregate and summarize” to “evaluate and anticipate.” The smart manufacturer is done with reporting the news and wants to use the past only in the sense of reshaping a better future.

Smart is the Current Generation’s Baseline

Experts project that in the coming years 50 billion smart machines will be deployed across operations and through the complete supply chains. As impressive as the sheer number of devices is, I am even more impressed with the ability of the next generation devices to deliver vital, contextual information. This information will be the basis for the analytic engine that connects ideas to impact as quickly as devices themselves connect.

Nearly all of us have “smart” phones and most of us are two or three generations into our smartphone journey. Most of us can’t even imagine going back to flip phones or PDAs. In the same way, the broad shoulders of technology are enabling Smart Manufacturing today and positioning us to accelerate at an unprecedented rate. We are only just starting to enjoy the view from the broad shoulders of technology. Manufacturing is a body of knowledge in motion and Sir Isaac himself would be impressed with the nature of the forces and acceleration driving change.

Smart Will Undoubtedly be a Collaborative Journey

Much like Sir Isaac, I appreciate that there will have to be significant collaboration for us to continue to Smart and even Smarter Manufacturing. I would love to hear examples of how emerging technologies have accelerated the progress of others. How smart do you feel?