Recently I attended a technical conference that was actually invigorating—one on Smart Manufacturing. I learned in layman’s terms what Smart Manufacturing is and what might be important in the future for small and mid-sized enterprises (SMEs).
On October 15th, 2015, the California Network for Manufacturing Innovation (CNMI) sponsored their third annual Smart Manufacturing Conference at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, CA. Previous conferences had focused on Additive Manufacturing. CNMI1 is a partnership originally organized by CMTC and MANEX (CA-based NIST MEP centers) to help California manufacturers learn about and understand new manufacturing technologies.
There were five different panels, each featuring three speakers ranging from researchers and professors to manufacturers that were implementing Smart Manufacturing. There were approximately 60 attendees (a sold out capacity) and when asked, all the manufacturers in the room had been manufacturing for at least 10 years or more and were clearly there to learn about adopting smart manufacturing practices.
While there are some very sophisticated definitions of Smart Manufacturing, such as those available through NIST’s own Smart Manufacturing Programs, perhaps the best definition that I quickly understood was by Dan Green, Director of the Joint Advanced Manufacturing Region (JAMR) within the Navy. He identified it as the convergence of operating technologies (OT) and information technologies (IT) working together in a real time integrated fashion. For further in-depth discussion about Smart Manufacturing see CMTC’s blog and infographic about the subject.
Using Smart Manufacturing To Be a Winning Supplier panel speakers included Dr. Arquimedes Cando, a principal scientist at Seimens and Hannah Kain, President and CEO of ALMOM (a contract manufacturer). Discussions focused on the direct implication of Smart Manufacturing such as real time information in manufacturing processes by Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) with suppliers leading to a whole new level of “visibility” throughout the supply chain. Other outcomes include traceability, flexibility for capacity management, increasing speed to market and a capacity for implementing new designs more quickly—a faster “velocity” in manufacturing.
Some of the implications for small manufacturers is that retail customers, OEMs and business-to-business customers will all have to face this integration of OT and IT to stay a valued part of the supply chain as an integrated partner. Certain manufacturing systems may become even more self-managed with limited human contact requiring a more sophisticated workforce to program and operate. The interaction of humans and automated systems like robots will have to be refined and the “digital thread” tying all of this together will grow stronger. Regulation of these systems interfacing with humans will become more important in the near future.
This was invigorating to me—simply because the NIST MEP Centers and the NIST laboratories are here to serve small and mid-sized manufacturers who want to understand this development. While there is no “strategy map” for adopting Smart Manufacturing yet, MEP Centers can help you get the information needed. Several laboratories at NIST also have research programs supporting Smart Manufacturing. A small manufacturer may, through this assistance, find a way to integrate into a supplier’s or retailer’s value chain for the future. Please contact your local MEP Center to see how we can help.
1 Other founding partnership members include Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, University of California Irvine, University of Southern California, Center for Applied Competitive Technologies. CNMI has been named a statewide California iHub.