The importance of digital elements in manufacturing processes is growing and this is one of the main concerns and hottest topics in the field. Does it have to mean fully automated processes at the strategic, planning and shop floor levels? What about businesses that still rely on manual tasks and human knowledge?
One of the first things we should address when we start this topic is the difference between automation and digitization.
Automation is focused on performing a sequence of activities in an automatic way, without human supervision, in order to reduce or even eliminate the manual effort.
Digitization is all about having real-time data, information, metrics, KPIs, and being able to manage your factory and make important decisions in an easy and accessible digital manner.
There are of course a group of companies where these two concepts blend. It is fairly clear for everyone that a factory with advanced machinery, sensors, IIoT Devices, Robots and that successfully integrates all these technologies to monitor, manage and improve the production process, is a smart manufacturing business.
However, and no matter how beautiful this scenery is… This is only actually achieved (and achievable…) by a small bunch of manufacturers.
So what about the others, who are not and possibly will never be in that stage? What about the 99%?
We believe that smart manufacturing is as relevant from them as it is for the ones we mentioned above because it basically means that you use real-time technology (and data). Which technology? How? Where? It doesn’t matter as long as it fits your machines, your processes, and your people – And it’s not just our opinion, according to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, smart systems are “fully-integrated, collaborative manufacturing systems that respond in real time to meet changing demands and conditions in the factory, in the supply network, and in customer needs”.
Digitization will provide people with all the information they need to support daily decision processes. It will also reduce manual reporting time and give your supervisors more time to focus on valuable tasks and it will avoid the use of paper. And these are just some of the huge amount of advantages you can find in going digital.
The key element to accomplish this is relevant and reliable data, no matter how you collect it. The goal here is to improve your operational standards and therefore every other level of your organization. It doesn’t need to require drastic transformations in your current operations or a huge investment in advanced technology which are not adjusted to your company. It is actually the opposite: it must simplify your production process.
The easiest way for your shop floor to go digital might be to integrate digital into the existing processes, and this can be as basic as a tablet or smartphone, not implying a huge change in your infrastructure or a huge investment.
Overall, the bottom line of this article is that going digital is suitable for every company. It should be – at least in the first steps – about integrating digital devices into your company and the existing processes.
That being said, we might be facing the 4th industrial revolution but it is not about robots or AI. It is about having access to data supported by technology and connectivity.