Agility/Flexibility: Running the factory in tune with the market means linking what’s produced in the factory with what’s selling in the market. Being able to quickly shift from producing one product to another or increase production of a fast-selling product can mean the difference between capitalizing on and missing a sales opportunity.
Speed: Every step from decision to delivery requires speed. At Rockwell Automation, all production information from all manufacturing plants is visible on a real-time basis, according to Ken Marapese, manager of MES operations and engineering services. “Not having that information real-time results in a lot of slower, bad decisions,” he says. (Full disclosure: MAVERICK Technologies is a wholly owned subsidiary of Rockwell Automation.)
Predictability: The ability to quickly adjust production to meet, say, an unexpected increase in a particular product’s sales must also be predictable. Being able to say yes to a big customer’s unexpected order requires the confidence that the factory can deliver.
Quality: Of course, whatever the request, however quickly delivered, quality has to be 100% perfect across the board.
Each of these factory characteristics must be managed with relative ease. Even if getting an order out requires flipping the factory upside down and backward, it must be handled as a just another part of doing business.
Beyond The Factory
Smart manufacturing technologies also are transforming other critical strategies and address other concerns that keep the C-suite up at night, including the following:
Speeding Innovation: New approaches to product development are now possible thanks to what’s become known as the “digital thread” where all information about a product is available to all decision makers throughout the product’s lifecycle, from design to delivery. “Creating an intelligent infrastructure where design, manufacturing, automation and supply chain are seamlessly connected to each other and in sync with customer demand is the prerequisite for delivering innovative products to market quickly and efficiently,” says Raffaello Lepratti, VP of business development and marketing at Siemens. Smart manufacturing technologies enable the seamless connection, which, in turn, improves a “company’s ability to deliver innovation faster than the competition, capture market share and delight customers — all required for market growth,” he says.
Reducing Risk: This intelligent infrastructure also reduces risk, Lepratti adds. It not only ensures that quality products are built using quality processes, but they increase the predictability of revenue and cost, which are essential to hitting earnings targets. “Smart manufacturing connects all areas of the enterprise from sales and demand planning to manufacturing and supply chain, providing visibility and accuracy for financial planning,” says Lepratti. It also allows company leaders to more quickly see and address risks associated with the global economic climate, demand trends and supply chain fluctuations or disruptions.
Meeting Standards and Regulations: Likewise, smart systems support business’ ability to more effectively meet standards and regulations. At Sanmina Corporation, for example, all documentation for traceability and verification is electronically gathered and maintained by the system, replacing hard-to-manage paper documentation known as “travelers.” Now, auditors can “just type in the serial number, and up pops not only the traveler but all the hyperlinks to the component traceability data,” says Gelston Howell, Sanmina’s senior VP of marketing.
Improving Leadership And Management
Perhaps most critical, smart manufacturing promises to improve leadership and management by streamlining communication throughout the organization. Sanmina, for example, views the visibility that corporate executives gain into the production process as an extension of management-by-walking-around, an approach promoted as critical for leaders to better understand front-line work. With each COO of the company responsible for as many as 20 facilities across the globe, MBWA isn’t practical. In its place, the company’s smart system provides executives with a dashboard of real-time factory information — along with programmed alerts that inform the executives of issues that require their immediate attention.
As smart manufacturing technologies mature, they will no doubt address other C-suite concerns. While it may seem that the technologies are the purview of factory leadership and not the C-suite, forward-thinking CEOs understand the business ramifications of this digital revolution.