25 May 2022

Five areas manufacturers should focus on to turn their smart ambition into reality

Smart manufacturing success requires adequate investments. FPT Software Senior Vice President and Executive Director of Global Automotive & Manufacturing Solutions Group, Nguyen Duc Kinh, explains five areas manufacturers should focus on to turn their ambition into reality.

Smart manufacturing has become the focus of manufacturers globally, thanks to its huge and diversified benefits. Asset efficiency, lower cost, higher product quality, improved safety and sustainability are all amongst the expected positive impacts from next-generation, connected factories. Yet, many companies have not reaped adequate outcomes from their IoT investments. So, what are the key factors that could enable a successful implementation?

Well-prepared data strategy

If in the past, steam and electricity revolutionised the manufacturing industry, then today, it is data that is disrupting how manufacturers operate. In a factory, valuable data can be collected from embedded sensors and connected production equipment, such as conveyors, fastening tools or robots. This data can come in many forms, for example, text, images, video, or sound recordings.

To fully exploit the power of this critical asset, companies need to implement the right infrastructure, including connected devices, networks, protocols and storage, to support their ever-growing data flow – especially when they have plans for expansion. In addition, since most legacy systems in factories were designed independently and often lack the ability to communicate with each other, manufacturers need to unify data from disparate sources to create a single source of truth. This means they need software that can collect, process, analyse and store all data generated throughout the manufacturing process.

Process optimisation

One of the key benefits that businesses hope to gain from smart manufacturing is that it could help to augment processes towards better operational efficiency. Yet, to accelerate and maximise the positive impact of any digital initiatives, manufacturers are advised to adjust or even redesign their processes in preparation for their industry 4.0 factory.

Since the implementation of smart manufacturing not only affects production lines but also other shop floor activities and top floor operations like sales, finance, HR, badly organised procedures might impede the adoption of new technologies, especially when it comes to automation. This could have a negative impact on the manufacturer’s entire performance. Digital connectivity also allows increased links with suppliers, customers and other production sites, forcing manufacturers to streamline their processes to avoid any accidents that may result from poor operation models.

A workforce with modern skillsets

No matter how smart factories can become, people are still the key to success. However, manufacturing digitalisation can lead to profound changes in an organisation’s human resources structure. Some positions may no longer be necessary thanks to the adoption of robots, while other workers may be required to develop new capabilities to fully utilise advanced technologies. It is also likely that new roles will emerge. An under-skilled workforce, hence, is not something today’s manufacturers can afford. To ensure the successful collaboration between humans and machines, both managing and operational levels are required to be quick learners, more versatile, flexible and proactive so they can perform cross-functional roles. Not only do they need deep domain knowledge, technical know-how about handling equipment, data and automation are also essential.

Readiness for rapid technology changes

Manufacturing technologies advance every day. A few years ago, drones and autonomous vehicles were still novelties, but recently they have been adopted more widely across many sectors. The same goes for robotics and 3D printing. To remain competitive, organisations will need to keep up to date with and open to emerging technologies such as data analytics, high-performance computing, artificial intelligence (AI), blockchain, intuitive machinery and augmented reality.

More attention on cybersecurity

Smart manufacturing relies heavily on connectivity among tools and systems, which makes it much more vulnerable to the risk of unauthorised access, data leaks, espionage and even sabotage. Given the multitude of connection points, a cyber attack may cause a more significant and widespread impact. At the same time, it is more difficult to protect complex systems against growing cyber threats. Overcoming these new security challenges requires stricter measures, including proper investments in robust IT infrastructure and security skills.

Industrial manufacturing is experiencing one of the most exciting phases in its history thanks to the latest technology advancements. Smart manufacturing opens up endless opportunities for companies to maximise their efficiency, conquer new markets and drive innovation. Although there is no formula for success, careful consideration and preparation will allow manufacturers to clearly map out and accelerate their transformation journey.