What Is SMART Manufacturing?

light bulb in a wooden roomIn twenty years, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, global manufacturing won’t even look remotely similar to the way it does now, thanks to Smart Manufacturing.

Smart Manufacturing sounds like something that should be intuitive. Doesn’t the term just mean being smart about manufacturing processes? In a sense, yes.

Ellen McKewen explains that smart manufacturing is a way to describe the use of real-time data and technology when, where, and in the forms that are needed by people and machines. According to the National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Smart manufacturing is systems that 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.” In other words, think about a smartphone or an iPhone, but on a larger scale.

Earlier this year, the government even made a $70 million dollar investment in an institute to develop smart manufacturing, the next Clean Energy Manufacturing Institute. Secretary Ernest Moniz explained that the investment is just another way to make technology cost-competitive in the United States. “SMART Manufacturing is a key information technology approach to unlock energy efficiency in manufacturing,” he said in a government press release.

Current research in smart manufacturing focuses on a few key areas that could lower the cost for manufacturers around the world:

Advanced Sensors: Sensors are one of the areas in Smart Manufacturing currently undergoing the most study and research. For example, a two-year project called “Intelligent Tooling” is currently working to develop embedded sensors for high-value machining applications in a variety of manufacturing sectors. The sensors would be able to sense temperature, force, and vibration, which could drastically improve the productivity of machining systems.

Since variations of tooling properties are often only noticed in final inspections, these incredible sensors could allow variations to be diagnosed and managed within the process, therefore reducing process variation and human intervention. Those interested in machining can read more about the sensors at the link above—they’re pretty extraordinary.

Manufacturing Modeling: Imagine if manufacturers could literally model their product and process on the web before heading into production. This is the future that Mitch Free, founder of digital manufacturer Zyci, imagines: “Cloud-based CAD is becoming very viable now. Actually being able to do industrial-quality 3D modeling in a web browser opens up lots of new opportunities to collaborate across the company and supply chain.”

New Platforms: There are all sorts of projects in the works right now to develop the right program for manufactures to enact smart manufacturing processes in their factories, which would allow employees and other across the supply chain to have access to systems and functionality. For example, the Wireless Platforms for Smart Manufacturing Project is working to create platforms that can replace wired platforms and still remain secure and observable.

Another major challenge is that implementing open software platforms with which to conduct smart manufacturing processes is extremely expensive, which means that it’s difficult for small- to medium-sized enterprises to use them. Research into integrated platforms will focus on how to decrease the cost of these platforms and thereby make them more accessible.

If you want to learn more about the research currently being done in smart manufacturing, let us know! It’s one of the most dynamic fields in the industry right now, and certainly a hot topic for most manufacturers. We look forward to watching the research progress to bring America’s manufacturing industry into the global forefront!

photo credit: All information via photopin (license)