What is Smart Manufacturing?

What Is Smart Manufacturing?

In this article, I’m going to describe to you what smart manufacturing is, what are its key drivers, and how industry 4.0 enables Smart Manufacturing. 

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One of the biggest drivers of industry 4.0 is the need for manufacturers to shift from mass production to mass customization of products, driven by the fact that more and more people and businesses prefer customizing their orders when making purchases from manufacturers in order to suit their individual or organization needs. This could be industrial equipment, car, furniture, clothing, etc. 

In fact, industry analysts are predicting that the next decade of innovation in manufacturing will be driven by the demand for mass customization.

To put it as simple as possible, manufacturers who are able to produce a product at low prices and with customer specific characteristics as quickly as possible will have the highest competitive advantage on the market in the coming decades. T

The fact of the matter is, traditional mass production, otherwise known as industry 3.0 sought to minimize production costs by using highly automated assembly lines designed for producing one kind of product with strictly defined characteristics, and perhaps with a small number of variations of the product. 

However, as much as that does reduce the cost of production significantly, it seriously restricts production flexibility. On the other hand, mass customization using industry 4.0 technologies allows maximum flexibility during production at reasonable costs. Simply stated, traditional mass production or industry 3.0 is focused on production efficiency, whilst industry 4.0 is focused on customer satisfaction. 

So, to help you implement a smart manufacturing strategy, I intend to give you a detailed description of an architectural approach for the design of an industry 4.0 manufacturing system by means of the Reference Architecture Model for industry 4.0, otherwise known as RAMI 4.0.

But first to set the context, let us take a step back and look at the trail of how manufacturing systems have evolved over the past century or so, initially, manufacturing systems consisted of production lines with machines that were dedicated to the performance of specific tasks, so that only one type of product could be produced. 

Next, there was the introduction of programmable machines on the factory floor and this allowed the production of a variety of different products, but still, it offered no flexibility in how much of the same type of product the system could produce. But today with industry 4.0 technologies, manufacturing systems are able to self adapt their hardware and software components to follow ever changing market requirements of both type and quantity of the products. 

This reconfigurability of manufacturing systems is a typical feature of industry 4.0, and the latest advancement in manufacturing systems. It is what enables mass customization down to a product page size of one.

Now, the question is exactly how does industry 4.0 enable mass customization in manufacturing and the many other benefits that come with it? Here is how, so as you might be aware, there are different aspects to running a manufacturing business, they are top-level strategic management processes, they have planned flow production processes, this procurement and shipping, and so on.

And as is typical with traditional manufacturing, these aspects of manufacturing are not connected at all they are totally isolated. 

The fundamental idea of industry 4.0 is that, to achieve the much-desired system reconfigurability which results in mass customization, rapid product development, more efficient supply chains, and better use of production resources. These highly diverse aspects of manufacturing need to be integrated across the entire value chain into a common model. 

So to achieve that with industry 4.0, four aspects of manufacturing were identified and defined. 

The first aspect is vertical integration. This is the integration of all the systems that are used in your manufacturing business value chain, from strategic management at the top, down to the plant floor vertically. Simply put, vertical integration within the factory describes the networking of means of production. For example, the networking of your automation devices or services. 

The second aspect is horizontal integration. This is the integration of all the systems involved in your manufacturing supply chain, from procurement to shipping, extending well beyond individual factories or manufacturing enterprises. 

Next, there is the aspect of Smart Production processes. This is the integration of the various steps or processes that are involved in the manufacturing business lifecycle, from the production design phase to retirement, and also the definition of the capabilities of the production processes. 

And then lastly, a totally new aspect to manufacturing systems is the establishment of intelligent or smart products whose technical commercial and administrative data is kept consistent and made accessible within the entire value stream at all times. Intelligent products, or products that are uniquely identifiable, can be located at all times, are aware of their own current production status, know their production and testing history and requirements needed to achieve their targets. 

Now, having established these smart manufacturing aspects, the next step would be to unite them into a single module. But that presents a challenge due to the fact that these aspects are from different application domains that don’t normally mix. 

Hence, it was necessary to first establish what approaches and method existed in each domain, so as to come up with standards for cross domain integration. And when that was done, it was clear that there was already a set of existing approaches or standards in each domain. For example, in the industrial automation domain OPC UA already existed as a standard for information exchange between automation devices and services. 

Now, as you would imagine, in attempting to identify standards that could be used for cross domain integration, they were highly divergent interest from industries with totally different standards and technologies. For example, there is the IEC, there’s ISO and VDMA so in order to achieve a common understanding of what standards are needed for industry 4.0 it became necessary to develop a uniform architecture model that can be used as a reference to provide guidance, and to identify, analyze and resolve common important architecture concerns. 

So that ultimately, it can be used as a template for the concrete architecture of industry. 4.0. So this is what led the platform industry 4.0 in Germany to come up with the Reference Architecture Model for industry 4.0 or RAMI 4.0. which we discuss at length in the next article in this series.

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