Smart manufacturing processes still in infancy finds report

Three quarters of manufacturers surveyed said they had not fully implemented a smart manufacturing initiative

Only 24% global manufacturers have currently implemented a smart manufacturing initiative [Credit: Plex Systems]

A surveyof 200 global businesses has found that only 24% had implemented a smart manufacturing initiative, although another 22% are in the pilot stages. Smart manufacturing is the combination of machinery and digital connectivity to control, monitor and improve manufacturing processes.

The three most-hyped technologies are 3D printing/additive manufacturing (28%), followed by machine learning, tied with industrial-hardened devices (24%), and blockchain (23%). These findings indicate that while specific applications are seeing success, there is not yet a clear path to their application within manufacturing environment.

In the next 12-18 months, 44% of manufacturers plan to fund new production technology and 38% new operational systems, such as industrial automation, Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM)/Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and Enterprise Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI).

The surveys authors note that the widespread impact of COVID-19 since this survey was conducted could shift future investments toward supply chain planning technologies. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers from Feb. 28–March 9, 2020, 35.5% of its member companies were facing supply chain disruption.

Manufacturers believe future growth will rely on operational improvements, such as cost reductions (37%), increased capacity (24%), and new production initiatives (40%).

The survey concludes that companies that are getting value out of their smart manufacturing processes are doing so by:

  • Clearly defining desired business outcomes.
  • Identifying the processes, technology and training necessary to achieve business outcomes. 
  • Successfully implementing the technology and driving adoption to fully realize the expected value.

"Smart manufacturers have better control and visibility across their operations than their peers, allowing them to more quickly and accurately adjust to changing market conditions, including crises such as COVID-19," said Jerry Foster, chief technology officer, Plex Systems. "While most companies surveyed do not identify as smart manufacturers today, what is encouraging is that we are seeing a growing appetite to adopt smart manufacturing practices. This appetite, combined with an increasingly reliable blueprint for success as demonstrated by industry leaders, indicates that the smart manufacturing movement will only increase from here."

"Our new research shows that companies successfully transforming into smart manufacturers are building on robust yet flexible business and operational systems," said Matt Littlefield, president and principal analyst at LNS Research. "Without an integrated approach to manufacturing software that can deliver a single source of truth, manufacturers will likely find themselves losing the competitive battle for agility and making sub-optimal decisions in siloes."

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