Smart Manufacturing: let the machines work their magic

No revolution is without its challenges, and smart manufacturing is no exception. The use of emerging technologies to increase the efficiency of traditional manufacturing processes has been around for years as it’s proved to be a game-changer for the industry, but the disruption in global supply chain due to the COVID pandemic, the geopolitical situation, natural disasters, and the rapid evolving technology landscape have thwarted many established plans. What do companies need to prioritize now to face 2024? What are the keys for good integration and clear ROI?  

It’s a fact. In today’s fast-paced and competitive industry, businesses can’t ignore the power of artificial intelligence, the internet of things (IoT) and big data analytics, among other emerging technologies, to gain a competitive edge. But how to implement them to improve production efficiency and overall performance as well as how to be sustainable in doing so in a world that is boiling hot because of what both humans and machines do is still a subject to debate.

Global disruptions and a rapidly changing technology scenario poses an interesting dilemma to the manufacturing industry, says Shyam Varan Nath, Specialist Leader, AI and Analytics at Deloitte and speaker at IOTSWC23. Innovation is key for better production, but “the scarcity of skilled workforce who have industrial automation background as well as are well-versed with the emerging technologies like IoT, Digital Twins, AI, AR/VR, has limited the adoption of emerging technologies in the sector.”

In addition, companies need to consider the cost of integration between different systems from different vendors while reducing new cybersecurity threats. What is more, cybersecurity appears as “the greatest danger to smart factory initiatives”, according to a report from Deloitte.

“All these factors lead to an unclear ROI and business value proposition to the management, leading to lack of funding required for initial adoption of emerging technologies”, says Shyam Varan Nath.

On the contrary, Mike Bowers, Chief Architect at FairCom Corporation and also speaker at IOTSWC23, is convinced that “lowering the cost of integrating new equipment is an immediate ROI.”

“A low code integration hub is key because you can point and click to collect any type of data from new equipment and get additional data from existing equipment. Then you can deliver that data to any system. Equally important, you can prevent vendor lock-in by gathering and delivering data from proprietary protocols and automatically bridge that data to open protocols, such as MQTT and OPC UA.”, he argues.

“A good integration hub can also reshape and enrich data with analytics as well as deliver it to free open source dashboarding platforms, such as Grafana, and Node-RED”, he insists.

More transparency

Technicalities aside, the ease or convenience of implementing smart manufacturing primarily depends on the state of a company’s manufacturing infrastructure. Then, any business should probably consider its budget, skillset, having and effective data management system, interoperability, regulations and compliance, change in workflows and processes, scalability and obviously the above-mentioned cybersecurity.

Yet, all things considered, many companies still face the challenge of where to focus their innovation investments. Generative AI has been center stage this year to get increased productivity, improved communication and collaboration, higher customer satisfaction, and better maintenance strategies. But Shyam Varan Nath warns that “while Generative AI will help in product design, industrial automation and robotics, such use cases will take time to be proven for deployment in the factories.”

It’s clear that change is not plain sailing. Carles Miranda, Industry 4.0 and Circular Economy Manager at ACCIO, the Catalan Agency for Business Competitiveness, points out that businesses must keep in mind that “the combination of emerging digital technologies is clearly helping to optimize production and the supply chain. But above all to provide more transparency, visibility, and information in real time”.

Smart is green

On the other hand, Deloitte’s Specialist Leader, Shyam Varan Nath, acknowledges that “sustainability is a growing priority and smart manufacturing can help companies to achieve their sustainability goals.” “For example, smart manufacturing can help companies to reduce their energy consumption, waste production, and environmental impact as water use or carbon capture”, he says.

In this regard, Carles Miranda argues that innovation has a direct impact on sustainability “when companies have digital transformation plans coupled with green transformation plans”.

“My recommendation, with a view to the end of 2023 and the beginning of 2024, is that any digital transformation plan companies put in place is to be associated with a green transformation plan to improve sustainability (with a broad vision that includes the entire value chain)”, he insists.

Overall, smart manufacturing is a complex and challenging area, but it clearly has the potential to revolutionize the way that products are manufactured. In the next 12 months, more and more companies will probably be adopting smart manufacturing technologies to improve their productivity, resistance to global disruptions and sustainability goals. IOTSWC24, to be held in May in Barcelona, will help them discover how machines can do their magic to achieve these goals while being sustainable, as smart is definitely to be green.

By Anna Solana

Pedro Mier

Pedro Mier holds a degree in Telecommunications Engineer ing from the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, MBA from ESADE and PADE from IESE. He is currently President of AMETIC (Association of Electronics, Information Technology and Telecommunications Companies of Spain), Shareholder and Chairman of the Board of Directors of TRYO Aerospace & Electronics, Board Member of the Premo Group and Committee of CTTC. member of Space Angels Network and Member of the Sc ientific Advisory