So What Exactly is Smart Manufacturing?

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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.

About Author

Tab Wilkins

Tab Wilkins is Regional Manager for Strategic Transition and Senior Technology Advisor at NIST MEP, primarily supporting Centers in the western US. Prior to joining NIST, Tab helped establish and run two MEP centers and has a varied background in non-profit management, leadership development and technology-based Economic Development.

9 Comments

  1. Mr. J. Mario Pellegrino on

    Mr. Wilkins, et all, does Smart Manufacturing incorporate International Standards Organization (ISO), QUALITY SYSTEMS INTO ITS OPERATING and INFORMATION TECHNOLOGIES, utilized and introduced by the U.S. NAVY AND U.S. COMMERCE NIST AGENCY? PLEASE CONSIDER THIS A REQUIREMENT OF SMART MANUFACTURING! MY PROFESSIONAL QUALITY CONTROL WORK, BOTH IN PRIVATE AND GOVERNMENT INDUSTRIES PROVE ITS VITAL TO USA NATIONAL SECURITY AND OUR ECONOMY! THANK YOU! Mr. J. Mario Pellegrino

    • I consider smart technology for smart manufacturing to be an important contributor only if it also engages in Smart Strategic Manufacturing Transformation which would entail looking at the product being manufactured as if its mainstream lifecycle is involving external knowledge based empowerment initiatives that bring Research & Development forward into the Manufacturing Practices and product features, more important is the work that will entail the use of better transitioning into focussing more on bringing more well balanced and eco-sensitive features into the product mix. to manufacture a product with specifics A and increase your smart manufacturing throughput is a fallacy unless it is anchored within an industry wide R & D based collaboratory which allows for transformative manufacturing.

      This is the future of all things based on Life Resource Sciences which is commonly referred to as Animal Based Exploitation Industries. Food is the next big game changer as far as transformative manufacturing is concerned.

      I would like that it be based on some engendered principles that allow for setting benchmarks in innovative handling of cutting down all those resources that don’t comply with the larger picture.

  2. Dear Mr. Pellegrino – thanks for your comment! Some elements of Smart Manufacturing does include a connection to ISO standards, for example Machine Tool Performance such as ISO 230 and ISO 10791, however not all elements of Smart Manufacturing does. That said, NIST through it’s international work will continue to support standards development in concert with industry, academia and government to support existing and new applications of standards to Smart Manufacturing.

  3. There’s no doubt that smart manufacturing will become more and more of a great idea simply because it can reduce employee expenses for a business. Regardless of how many machines are present, however, most of the same materials will be cut, molded, sanded, etc. and as a result dust and fumes will still be produced–most of which can still affect a machine’s operation in one way or another. And there will still be operators, albeit fewer of them, that will be concerned about the quality of the air they’re breathing. So, while smart manufacturing will reduce the number of people to breathe it, airborne pollutants will still need to be removed with proper dust collectors, fume extractors, etc.

    Rex Murphy
    Indoor Air Quality Specialist
    Air Purifiers and Cleaners.com
    http://www.airpurifiersandcleaners.com/dust-collection-filtration-systems

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