The Oncoming Revolution of Smart Manufacturing

The smart manufacturing revolution has several wombs: the garage of Steve Wozniak, the three-bedroom house of Jeff Bezos, the lab of Martin Cooper. From these birthplaces of innovation came mobile communication, real-time networking, lightning-quick algorithms and dozens of other bits of IT magic. Heretofore, many of these innovations have been used merely to browse Facebook and post cat pictures, but the giants of capitalism have other plans. Their plan is revolution, and the revolution is called smart manufacturing.

What is it?  (Hint: That’s the wrong question.)

Smart manufacturing is many things: IT-driven assembly cells, automated preventive quality control systems, rapid prototyping, etc. Yet the real question is not how it works, but what it does, and the answer is demand-driven production.

Imagine a world where mainstream products are made to order. Sophisticated algorithms will automatically schedule production based on available raw materials and energy demands. The manufacturing process flows like water, the upstream supplier shipping materials from the nearest warehouse, the manufacturing facility swiftly building the part using automated assembly cells, the distributor picking up the order the next day, etc. There is no waste. There is no one micromanaging the process.

Proponents of smart manufacturing describe it a dozen ways: a mesh of real-time technology, flexible manufacturing, a web of automated coordination. But the buzzword means something far simpler: fewer cogs, fewer people, more computers. Smart manufacturing leverages the power of IT – real-time analytics, precision tracking and data aggregation – against inefficiency. It puts lean manufacturing techniques to shame.

This utopian engineering future has not arrived quite yet. Overhauling enterprise-wide IT systems costs umpteen millions, and not all companies can foot the bill for smart units in assembly, production, procurement, quality, and the other pillars of manufacturing. But make no mistake – the revolution is here.

As of now, it requires a répondez s’il vous plait – and a big check.

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