The Advanced 21st Century Manufacturer

Anytime another article rolls out about how new manufacturing technology can improve a business, managers and owners begin to ask a few questions. Many manufacturers aren’t convinced the time it will take to learn about these new systems will be worth the improvements. But this might not be the reality. We will be discussing how new manufacturing technology and systems can improve your business and enhance your current workforce rather than replace them all together.

The Industrial Internet of Things is the first thing that comes to mind when speaking about new manufacturing technology. In fact, this concept is far from a new idea. Manufacturers have been connecting their equipment to systems and software for as long as they have had the means to do so. Now, what makes the IIoT different is the scale and scope of what can be connected, and the applications these connected systems can provide. The ability for machines to work together to keep up with demand while working in the most efficient way possible is the true gift the IIoT brings to the manufacturing industry. The IIoT offers an incredible way for manufacturers to get the best bird’s-eye view of how their operation is running and what needs to change to continually improve.

This incredible system has the potential to dramatically increase the transparency of any and all processes going on throughout a facility. From the location of employees all the way to energy usage can all be monitored and reported on. For example, if employees are congregating in a high traffic area where forklifts or other heavy equipment routinely travel through, this can pose a serious safety hazard. A facility connected to the IIoT can then react in real-time either sending a mobile alert to the shop manager or even go as far as contacting those individual employees. This is just a simple example of what the IIoT can bring to any manufacturing operation of any size.

The potential for capturing valuable data is really one of the main reasons manufacturers are interested in the IIoT. Collecting data has never been a problem for manufacturers, but accurately analyzing this data and finding the data that can actually help improve business operations is the true challenge. Furthermore, putting this data to work in real-time has also proved extremely difficult.

The cloud paired up with an IIoT connected facility takes the guess work out of analyzing data. All data can either be collected, analyzed and stored in the cloud which can be seen by anyone with access or stored in a local server for real-time decision-making. The reason for having a local server is to cut down on latency caused by downloading and uploading data to and from the cloud. Machines are now able to make real-time decisions about how they go about running the manufacturing line and they need this fast connection to work efficiently.

Let’s talk about the manufacturing workforce and how they will be impacted by new manufacturing systems and technology. Many fear that the potential of new IIoT connected automated systems could make the human workforce obsolete. However, this will not be the case. These systems still rely on the human element to ensure everything is running as it should. Not only will there need to be overseers, but much of the new technology that is flooding the manufacturing industry is created with enhancing the current workforce in mind.

Manufacturers have been struggling to secure new employees for quite some time now. A system, like a collaborative robot (Co-bot), could be placed on the shop floor and easily programmed to assist an employee with whatever task they are working on today. Tomorrow, another section of the production line can reprogram the Co-bot to help them with a different aspect of the manufacturing process. Augmented reality systems, like wearable technologies, can also be utilized to improve your current workforce. Connected to the manufacturing facility via the IIoT, these employees can be sure they know exactly where they need to be and what they need to be doing at that specific point of time. The idea of enhancing the workforce is one that manufacturers are particularly open to. Manufacturing facilities think of their employees as family, many communities even rely on one manufacturer to keep their local economy thriving. Eliminating a large amount of their workforce will not only hurt the manufacturer’s brand image, local communities will suffer as well.

Even with security still being a concern, manufacturers are flocking to these new technologies in droves. Government led initiatives, as well as private entities, are working vigorously to find the best way to ensure all of these businesses’ precious private information stays safe and it is giving manufacturers hope for the future. With all of the advantages these new technologies provide, manufacturers cannot ignore these buzz-worthy trends. The faster they act, the better their chance is to offer their customer something other competitors simply cannot, which is the promise of efficiency and the ability to keep them in the loop like never before imagined.

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