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The Contribution of Smart Manufacturing to the Progress of Sustainability

In a previous article on Stabilizing the Manufacturing Industry by Leveraging Smart Manufacturing, we looked at how the benefits of smart manufacturing can turn into two ways beneficiaries, both for businesses and the environment.

We can see how smart manufacturing enabled by Industry 4.0 is necessary to remain competitive. As businesses plan and execute this digital transformation within their industry strategically and carefully, they are focusing on reliable technologies that can help them implement practical solutions and realize the cost and resource benefits of smart manufacturing.

This time, we outline a few technologies that have gained momentum within smart manufacturing and can benefit manufacturing businesses in achieving their environmental objectives. Also, we will discuss some initiatives that have the potential to gain traction in the near future in support of both established manufacturing and sustainable development.


Table of Contents



Technologies Supporting Digitalization within Industrial Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing has been developing recently since Industry 4.0’s associated technologies were introduced in 2011 to describe a data-rich, interconnected, and highly automated form of production.

IoT, Cloud Computing, RPA, Big Data, AI, and Machine Learning are among industry 4.0’s momentum technologies.

By integrating Smart Manufacturing technologies into the manufacturing process, businesses can produce highly differentiated, cost-effective and competitive products that meet today’s market demands.

IoT enables manufacturers to gain significant benefits from digitalization, including agility, productivity, enhancing customer service, and meeting dynamic market demands.

The Internet of Things (IoT) also assists manufacturers in improving OEE by providing detailed analytics and instrumentation of equipment performance to improve OEE. IIoT solutions can help to increase OEE in many ways, but the most notable is that they can deliver significant measurable improvements. Utilizing IoT technology properly helps companies achieve higher OEE scores.

Using IoT to establish your manufacturing OEE in real-time is one of the first steps you should take to prepare for the automated factories of the future.

Aside from enabling manufacturers to utilize IoT, 3D printing, and industrial robots in their manufacturing process, cloud computing also allows them to access infinitely scalable computing resources, thereby enhancing innovation, remaining competitive, and reducing operating costs.

Manufacturers depend heavily on the cloud for operational efficiency, security, and data storage & analytics.

In industrial manufacturing, big data analytics involves processing a large quantity of unstructured and structured data to extract insights, reveal patterns, and generate information that will help manufacturers make informed decisions. Using big data allows for real-time reporting.

To maximize the benefits of smart manufacturing, the industry is increasingly integrating robotic process automation (RPA) into its manufacturing operations. This technology optimizes time-centric and repetitive routine processes, increases go-to-market speed by maximizing productivity, reduces costs by minimizing human errors and enhancing compliance, and increases agility in operations.

By accelerating the growth and accessibility of data, artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) are creating new opportunities in the manufacturing sector. Machine Learning improves manufacturing processes through predictive maintenance and analytics by making them safer, more efficient, and more profitable; AI optimizes cloud processing, enables faster computers, and improves operational efficiency.

How Manufacturing Will Evolve in the Next Five to Ten Years

Learning from the past is essential to look toward the future, and industrial manufacturing is no exception. We can improve supply chain resilience by using a mix of approaches to smart manufacturing, including manufacturing as a service (MaaS).

Further, digital transformation requires a shift in culture and wide use of digital technologies. It needs customer-centric organizational reform driven by leadership, challenging corporate culture, and utilizing technology to empower and enable employees.

Previously, manufacturers emphasized standardizing operations to improve operational efficiency. Today, these businesses are focusing on personalized solutions, subscription-based offerings, and services that deliver meaningful customer engagement across the ecosystem of distributors and dealers. Hence, new business models like servitization will play an essential role in manufacturers’ strategies.

The Focus on Smart Manufacturing’s Impact on Sustainability is Increasingly Compatible with the Customer-Centric Approach

As consumer needs and society’s focus increasingly shift toward sustainability, industrial manufacturers must explore how to advance smart-factory technology to reduce environmental impact through streamlining operations.

When the right priorities are in place, it is possible to support sustainability goals actively, and through industry 4.0 technologies’ optimized asset management, help regenerate the world’s ecosystem and undo the environmental damage caused by earlier industrial revolutions and practices.

By design, some smart manufacturing technologies maximize the use of resources. Sustainable industrial manufacturing is possible in a variety of ways. By conducting physical tests in simulated environments, simulation software can reduce physical waste, simulate the durability and lifetime of various materials, or test alternative materials for products that are least harmful to the environment. Additionally, DFM can contribute to the sustainability of a product. Generated design software, for example, can minimize product weight and material use while maintaining strength and cost.

Experts in Industry 4.0 believe that we can only be optimistic about future opportunities and trends arising from these technologies and how they could reduce the environmental impact of industrial manufacturing.

A growing trend is emerging among Lighthouse manufacturers utilizing digital technology to build more agile and customer-centric organizations. Through this approach, manufacturers can focus their efforts beyond productivity on improving sustainability, agility, speed to market, customization, and customer satisfaction: five different areas of impact.

Manufacturing assets are already being integrated with smart manufacturing technologies such as robotic systems, 3D printers, 3D laser scanners, AR/VR devices, simulation and visualization software, etc., significantly improving KPIs that drive growth. This set has five key performance indicators (KPIs), including those associated with sustainability, such as greenhouse gas emissions; productivity, such as factory output; agility, such as lead-time reduction; other speed-to-market KPIs, and customization.

Aligning with Engineering Teams to Advance Smart Manufacturing

According to an ongoing poll conducted by the nonprofit Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA), companies are facing major challenges in achieving smart manufacturing goals. About 58% of respondents cited financial concerns or a lack of knowledge about the technologies involved.

Looking further to engineering roles in the smart manufacturing ecosystem, the Institution of Engineering and Technology and the IMechE recently commissioned a survey of their members across different career stages on the future manufacturing engineer profile.

The survey questionnaire covered the following topics:

  • What may be the future role of manufacturing engineers
  • What will be the most important competencies
  • Where manufacturing engineers can have the most impact on solving the world’s greatest challenges.

In the next decade, automation, robotics, and mechatronics skills will be critical for manufacturing engineers (84%). The following skills were ranked in order of importance: artificial intelligence (69%) and sustainable, lean, resource-efficient manufacturing (66%).

In this article, we have discussed how digitalization is transforming society and technology’s role in this transformation. In many manufacturing companies, the decision to invest in digital technologies has yet to be made, and finding a reliable technology partner specializing in this sector is only one step toward meeting the burning market demands.

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