Smart manufacturing and digital factory trends

Manufacturing is getting smarter and more interconnected and helping make the digital transformation journey possible.

By Thomas Burke August 16, 2022
Image courtesy: Brett Sayles

Smart Manufacturing Insights

  • There is a great deal of potential for smart manufacturing because so many technologies are converging and making it possible for companies to learn how to make their operations better.
  • A converged network helps smart manufacturing by reducing costs, simplifying network architectures and making devices smarter.

There are many new innovations and industry trends in the world of smart manufacturing and digital factories. Innovations include artificial intelligence (AI), data/information integration, Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), edge, cloud, fog computing, robotics, adaptive learning and augmented reality (AR). Opportunities exist with all these different trendsetting innovative ideas all focused at helping manufacturing companies to achieve their digital transformation journey.

Manufacturing opportunities flourish for adoption of smart manufacturing innovations primarily driven from companies seeking to improve and manage their operations and taking advantage of cost-saving applications/devices. Manufacturing operations can gather data from their operation technology (OT) systems and transform the data into useful information for information technology (IT) applications. IT/OT convergence is a reality via the multitude of products supporting these technology innovations.

Smart manufacturing is driven from technical infrastructure and innovations for connecting all sorts of machinery to monitor manufacturing processes. Companies can leverage smart manufacturing to automate/streamline their operations using analytics to take the data they gather from their connected devices into useful information.

The vision of the factory of tomorrow is one of machines, production lines, plants, and entire supply chains that communicate with each other to enhance productivity, efficiency, and flexibility.

Manufacturing can make smarter decisions about equipment utilization for optimized performance, and quality of their manufacturing operations. Manufacturing shall streamline maintenance activities by predicting potential equipment failure ahead of time using condition-based monitoring and scheduling repairs to minimize downtime.

The industrial Ethernet continues to evolve to support the terabytes of data that can be gathered from many disparate devices and networks in the OT world.

The importance of connectivity and being able to gather data is the foundation for the digital transformation journey. One of the technologies helping is time-sensitive networking (TSN), which was specifically developed to enhance standard Ethernet to provide the key functionality, performance, and reliability necessary to achieve digital transformation.

Convergence is the ability to run multiple industrial Ethernet protocols on the same physical wire. It can be realized with TSN technology and allows critical control applications to run in parallel and seamlessly with generic configuration, programming and diagnostic applications.

Benefits of a converged network

Convergence provides the infrastructure to merge different traffic types onto a single network without affecting the performance of shop floor communications. This is fundamental to sharing operational insights and hence increasing process transparency across an enterprise, which can then be used to derive insights to optimize manufacturing facilities and entire organizations. TSN extends standard Ethernet to be interoperable and compatible with existing already installed Ethernet devices and Ethernet networks.

There are many benefits to a converged network, but the four standouts are:

  1. Control devices that were previously isolated to separated control networks – required to ensure deterministic performance, can now be addressable and accessible to other applications for use in advanced analytics and digital twins
  2. Devices are becoming smarter and more complex, and require management, that can now be accomplished over one connection
  3. Architectures are simplified using one network, improving deployment and troubleshooting
  4. Costs are reduced through the simplification of architectures.

To enable future-proof industrial communications and next-level performance, all automation suppliers and system integrators should deliver TSN-compatible products.  This can help their customers create the factories of the future while enhancing their own competitiveness in a fast-growing market.

Thomas Burke is global strategic advisor at CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA), a CFE Media and Technology content partner.

Author Bio: Thomas Burke is global strategic adviser for CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA). He is the founder of the OPC Foundation and spent much of his career developing software, hardware and firmware for industrial automation, including at Rockwell Automation. CC-Link Partner Association (CLPA) is a CFE Media and Technology content partner.