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Smart manufacturing technologies enable digital transformation

Manufacturers are increasingly implementing smart factories to improve efficiency and productivity. But companies need to plan well before adopting new systems.

New smart manufacturing technologies, including industrial IoT, are at the forefront of a digital transformation in manufacturing. But companies must be careful about how they implement systems that make facilities smarter.

"Smart manufacturing is about connected assets and ensuring that all the sensors and I/Os and all the PLCs [programmable logic controllers] and all the other systems -- such as maintenance systems -- [and] all the operational systems, including ERP, are connected," said Rashesh Mody, senior executive of global software services and support at Aveva Group PLC, a U.K.-based industrial software firm.

After connecting the systems with smart manufacturing technologies, companies need to connect all the information and decision-making, and then connect all the behaviors, actions and people, Mody said. This can improve manufacturing efficiency and quality.

Aveva's Enterprise Asset Performance Management system can help companies improve the connectivity of people, processes and equipment, enabling them to operate more efficiently. For example, Aveva helped to digitally transform the manufacturing systems of a North American company that makes over 600,000 transmissions annually for Toyota, according to Mody.

Outdated equipment results in downtime costs

The North American manufacturer was working with outdated technology and old equipment that cost the firm hundreds of thousands of dollars in downtime per hour. So, to operate more efficiently, the company decided to modernize its entire 1.3 million square foot facility with smart manufacturing technologies, including servers, software and networking. The manufacturer installed a new network infrastructure from Cisco with access points, switches and controllers.

This IoT infrastructure enabled the company to collect data in real time so it could better monitor how its equipment was operating, helping the company avoid unnecessary maintenance costs.

"They included our software not only for automation systems, but for their MES [manufacturing execution system], performance quality and downtime scheduling," Mody said. "They have reduced the labor in collecting data and improved processes -- over 90% reduction in post-production overtime. These pieces together helped them achieve better performance, better throughput and reduce quality issues."

Midsize companies can use smart manufacturing technologies

Smart manufacturing technologies are not just for big companies; midsized companies are getting in on the action. One of these is OFS International LLC (OFSi), a Houston-based company that provides services for the oil and gas industry, including threadings and couplings for steel pipes.

"We are in the middle of the oil and gas and the steel industries. And [these] industries are highly conservative and highly inefficient," said Yuri Dorovskikh, IT manager at OFSi.

Although OFSi is not yet a 100% smart factory, it is pretty advanced considering the industries it works with, Dorovskikh said. However, OFSi is on the low end in terms of technology compared to other manufacturers, although the company is trying to transition to high-end smart manufacturing technologies.

We are striving to be a smart factory; we are acquiring new equipment and we are modernizing the old equipment when possible.
Yuri DorovskikhIT manager, OFS International LLC

In 2013, OFSi bought the pipe services and manufacturing assets of Scotland-based International Tubular Services Ltd., which included a lot of old machines. At that time, Dorovskikh built an Excel spreadsheet with all of OFSi's pending IT projects -- about 50. OFSi then created a committee to review those IT initiatives with an eye toward transitioning to a smart factory. The company started by replacing the most inefficient processes and manufacturing stages.

When OFSi began its digital initiative, it did not have an ERP or MES platform that it could build on, according to Dorovskikh, so it had to start from scratch.

"We chose Acumatica as our platform. It's a postmodern ERP that allows for connections and integrations relatively easier than any other product," he said. "That was a strategic choice that would allow us to capture accounting information, financials and some distribution, but it would also allow us to integrate an MES system, which we are building from scratch."

Currently, OFSi is trying to automate all of its data input. For example, during production, when a pipe is being threaded, the machine generates a lot of data. OFSi has replaced some machines, but the company has a special interface for the old machines that it has had to keep -- a combination of hardware and software -- where the data is generated in a specific format and pushed to its internal database.

OFSi is building and integrating all of these systems in the Acumatica platform, according to Dorovskikh.

"At the heart of Acumatica is an accounting system. But we also want to accommodate all the operations people, so for them, we built the so-called MES extensions or MES system on top of Acumatica," he said. "So it's a continuous process. We are striving to be a smart factory; we are acquiring new equipment and we are modernizing the old equipment when possible. If we can't modernize a machine, we eat the cost or keep it for low-end production."

Auto manufacturers embrace smart factories

By the end of 2022, automotive manufacturers expect that 24% of their plants will use smart manufacturing technologies, according to a survey from Capgemini. In fact, 46% of automotive companies have already put smart factory initiatives in place behind industrial manufacturing and aerospace.

More advanced auto manufacturers are investing in software, including advanced analytics and AI-based tools, as opposed to just enhancing or retrofitting their hardware-based components, according to the report.

Capgemini worked with one Tier 1 automotive supplier to transition it to smart manufacturing technologies, according to Srinivas Datla, practice vice president for digital manufacturing at Sogeti, the Paris-based technology and engineering services division of Capgemini. It was important to understand why they were transitioning to a smart factory before embarking on the project.

"We did an assessment with their leadership of how they were connecting their plant at the base level and defined their vision for a smart factory," Datla said. "We looked at it from multiple angles -- operations, the supply chain side, how material was flowing into the factory, how they were maintaining the plant and the assets that were there in the factory, and how they were ensuring the quality of the products that were rolling out."

Sogeti then built a foundational layer of connectivity and IT systems and hardware -- including robots -- that could be put in place to enable the company's move to a smart factory.

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