4.0 Industrial Revolution and Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacture refers to a discipline which focuses on the creation of superior products, using advanced technology, and employing optimal knowledge sets. Smart manufacture is also known as “innovation through knowledge transfer” or simply “innovation through collaboration”. This is one of the fastest growing fields in the manufacturing field. The goal of this fast growing discipline is to create and use new technologies, equipment and knowledge to make the manufacturing process more efficient, as well as, lower cost.

What is smart manufacturing process? It is a comprehensive description of the entire manufacturing process including all function nodes, the interactions between them, and the results of each step in the manufacturing process. Smart manufacture involves optimal information management in every stage of the manufacturing process, from idea generation, business case analysis, development, implementation, operation, customer service, and waste management.

In other words, it is about “smart” manufacturing. The goals of smart manufacturing are very similar to those of standard manufacturing – reduction of cost, optimized service, optimized results, and continual quality. However, smart manufacturing does not rely on any particular technology. Instead, it relies on knowledge sharing and on collaboration across an enterprise. Smart manufacture aims to build synergies among different types of industries and at every stage of the manufacturing process.

There are three basic approaches to smart manufacturing techniques. These include additive manufacturing, digital manufacturing, and 3D manufacturing. Additive manufacturing refers to the use of high-tech molds and other additives which change the physical characteristics of a product. For example, a plastic can be made into a bottle by using special ink cartridges filled with color pigments. In additive manufacturing, two identical items are produced rather than one. Digital manufacturing involves computer-aided design (CAD) or computer aided design (CAD/CAE) technology to create complex products with detailed geometrical and physical details.

Because of the prevalence of smart manufacture technologies across many industries and because they have been proven to reduce waste, cost, and cycle time, they are expected to play a major role in the productivity and efficiency of tomorrow’s businesses. In fact, some experts believe that tomorrow’s factories will resemble assembly line production lines where many robots perform specific tasks as part of the production process. Experts in the industry also predict that industry 4.0 – automated, digitally enhanced systems – will soon lead to a decline in the rate of labour turnover and to a focus on value creation rather than on quantity of output.

In order to be able to take advantage of smart manufacturing technologies, companies need to invest in automation and other software systems that can help them process large volumes of materials in a shorter period of time. The efficiency of the entire production process depends on the completeness and accuracy of the material and process data that the system is designed to retrieve and process. Therefore, controlling processes with a fully automated, digitally enhanced control systems is crucial.

Automation, however, is not a one-time investment. Control systems and other automated systems must be updated on a regular basis to ensure that the company is making the most of its investments and in turn, the most of its profits. For instance, it is essential that manufacturing companies update their ERP systems so that they can handle the increased volume of orders coming in as a result of their innovative production processes. A smart manufacturing company also needs to update its manufacturing process traceability so that it can track and trace the materials used in each process step in the manufacturing process so that faulty components can be quickly identified and resolved.

In this new Fourth Industrial Revolution, we are likely to see not only increased automation but also the development of automated systems that can respond to changing customer requirements and unique market situations. Such systems will enable manufacturers to increase their flexibility and minimize unforeseen costs. Moreover, such systems will enable a company to deliver the goods to their customers faster than ever before, increasing the company’s bottom line and overall profit margin. With this Fourth Industrial Revolution, businesses of all sizes stand to benefit from smarter manufacturing processes and the streamlined efficiency that such systems provide.