May 26 2016

Aleksejs Volcenkovs

Why “Smart” Manufacturing Will Grow in 2016

Why Smart Manufacturing Will Grow in 2016Factories are typically thought of as dark places with people standing on an assembly line working side by side with machines, doing the same thing over and over again. But, that “vision” of the traditional factory has changed thanks largely to the influx of technological advances in how factories operate.

Technology driven factories are cropping up all around the globe in both established and developing countries. Many countries are recognizing the opportunity for change and investing heavily by offering grants and other benefits to help to implement these technology changes.

The EU for example is investing almost 2 Billion Euros into their private/public partnership “Factories of the Future” to encourage manufacturers to take advantage of new technology to improve their factories and to become more efficient, green and profitable. It is not just the EU that is offering a great deal of incentives for manufacturers to switch their operations over to something that looks a little bit like a “great idea”. Even developing countries are offering incentive packages to lure manufacturers to their countries.

Smart manufacturing offers a bevy of benefits and will eventually become the way that every organization creates their products.

The Labor Force

Naysayers like to point out all the workers that will lose their jobs, however, the fact is that these factories actually create indirect jobs. Who really wants to stand in less than ideal conditions all day long at an assembly line anyway?

Luckily one of the reasons that these types of manufacturers are going to be successful is because they will promote job opportunities that will greatly outnumber the jobs currently available with traditional factories.

Studies indicate that the number of indirect jobs that will be needed to support manufacturing in smart factories may actually triple or quadruple in quantity.  Indirect jobs will be a necessity for these types of factories to function.

When computers were first introduced for public/private use, naysayers then said that they would put people out of work and businesses would become completely automated. Similar to that era, the “factory worker” will still be very much part of the process just in a different capacity.

There will always be critics that will predict the worst case scenario, but the reality can be very different then the prediction. Smart factories do not put people out of jobs, it just means that people will have a different role in the process.

Environmental Impact

Smart factories are hailed as the wave of the future now because they can reduce the negative effects that manufacturing has on the environment. Since concern has turned to the environment in the last couple of decades, manufacturers have received the brunt of the criticism for creating an environment that is slowly turning hostile to humanity.

The smart factories utilize reusable packaging options and other methods that greatly reduce the impact on the environment.  Reducing the effects on the environment can include:

  • Reduction in greenhouse gases that have a negative impact on the environment
  • More efficient use of natural resources
  • Improved waste control measures to reduce environmental damage

As more consumers become aware of environmental issues more consumers are demanding change and looking to manufacturers to change how they do business. In response to consumer demand more manufacturers will look to smart factories as a solution.

Industry 4.0

This movement has even generated its own nickname.  The movement to use technology to improve production has adopted the name of Industry 4.0 because it’s the improved way to develop and manufacture all goods.

Since the emergence of Industry 4.0, more and more manufacturers have adopted the practice of utilizing technology that can greatly improve their productivity at a lower cost. Industry 4.0 will change the way manufacturers create goods.  You can expect that 4.0 initiatives will:

  • Look to “closed lifecycle loops” where there is ZERO waste
  • A concerted effort to use only sustainable materials
  • A drastic reduction in overall costs which may be passed on to the end user

Tax Breaks, Government Compliance and Sheer Profits

Smart factories will grow in 2016 because they are simply a more viable option. Governments help manufacturers with their bottom line by offering deep tax breaks. As government regulations become harder and harder to comply with via the use of traditional methods, more and more businesses will opt to choose a method that makes compliance both easier and more cost effective.

This movement is set to really grow by leaps and bounds. As more governments get on board with the idea that it is time for a change and they offer bigger and better tax breaks to entice manufacturers you will see a tremendous change in manufacturing. Manufacturers not only save money thanks to all the incentives but they are able to increase their positive cash flow.

The People Want It

It is not only the government that is making it easy to make the choice to covert. Consumers will be more likely to seek out brands that are using smart factories as their point of origination. It will get to the point in the near future where consumers will avoid products that are crafted in traditional factories.

If you give consumers a choice they will choose the products that are coming from a factory that causes less impact on the environment. But, consumers are thrifty as well – they do not want to pay extra for such products.


Increased profits, improved reputation, reduced taxes and greater job creation all together sounds an awful lot a recipe for success. The question is not “why” these type of factories will enjoy growth in 2016, but more “how could they not?”

Smart manufacturing has all the components of a successful enterprise. More correctly we should be wondering why there will be any traditional, environmentally offensive factories remaining.

If we have the solution to reduce impact on the environment and create more jobs should we not require that manufacturers take the option?

The growth of these factories will be very difficult to keep up with in 2016 and beyond. They are the solution to so many problems.


If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:

Permanent link to this article:

May 19 2016

How the Industrial Internet of Things is Changing the Electrical Industry

44412130_sAutomation is an inevitable part of many industries, and the logical next step is automated systems that essentially communicate with one another. It’s commonly known as the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is transforming how businesses operate. It’s an exciting trend and one that has accelerated dramatically in just the last few years. Connectivity is better, programming is smarter, and the manufacturing tasks that stand to benefit are now beginning to embrace the change.

The electrical industry is one that is ideal for adopting new technologies that increase efficiency. At virtually every level, processes can be improved with the help of intercommunicating systems and devices.

What Is the Industrial Internet of Things?

Generally speaking, IoT refers to networks that allow devices to communicate with one another. Just as two employees could send emails to each other in order to complete a task, the IOT allows devices to do the same — all based on careful, deliberate programming.

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIOT) means the same, only it is specific to IOT as it relates to manufacturing and other industrial processes. Put more simply, if the IOT allows a security camera to communicate with your cellphone or your cellphone to your thermostat, then the IIOT allows large-scale mechanical equipment to communicate with different machines along an assembly line. Right now, it’s a technology that’s still in a relatively early stage, but as more equipment is built with interconnectivity in mind, the IIOT is expanding.

Here are just a few of the key benefits of the IIOT for the electrical and manufacturing industries:


As noted above, the IIOT is, at its heart, about automating information flow— and in the electrical industry, automation can save you a lot of headaches. Automation reduces the risk of human error, and it ensures that all processes are carried out consistently. By allowing machines to communicate with one another, automation can be greatly simplified. In the electrical industry, the trend is to harness IIOT to better monitor electrical grids and respond much more quickly to power outages.


In manufacturing, accountability is key — and you likely have to account for plenty. When you can track every stage of the manufacturing process, you have more control over the end product. You can also reduce potentially costly mistakes that might result from losing track of any given process or product.


Electrical processes that use the IIOT are streamlined. By eliminating unnecessary “middle men” who likely operate more slowly and are more prone to mistakes, the IIOT has unlocked a new world of efficiency for the manufacturing and electrical industries. For that reason, the IIOT is increasingly seen as a smart investment for manufacturers. The efficiency and increased productivity alone are huge benefits.

Access and Visibility

With the IIOT, virtually every process can be logged and more closely monitored. This level of transparency means that an electrical company or manufacturer can have much greater visibility and access to inner workings. What that means is that you can constantly be improving your processes, and you can see exactly what is and is not performing optimally.

Supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems have long been incorporated in the electrical industry. As IIOT is implemented, electrical facilities will be able to use more sophisticated sensors and actuators to collect data in real time.


The IIOT is also being employed in ways that improve how electrical companies work with customers’ systems. Advanced metering infrastructure (AMI) systems are a smart way to meter and manage energy use. In short, these two-way communication systems help to transfer data between the electrical companies and customers, helping both sides be more efficient.

Better Maintenance

Maintenance has long been one of the costliest and most time-consuming elements of manufacturing, and without the IIOT, there is plenty of room for error. Outside of regular maintenance checks, you largely depend on luck to catch problems that can be corrected through maintenance. Worse, you are forced to address the problem only after it’s resulted in malfunction. The IIOT gives manufacturers and electrical companies a key tool in getting ahead of maintenance issues by more easily spotting the warning signs early. What’s more, the IIOT gives us the tools to perform maintenance in a smarter way.

Because it’s still a young concept, the IIOT is likely to evolve to encompass even more processes to be even more efficient. The manufacturers and electrical companies that will thrive will be the ones that embrace and incorporate the IIOT. It will be exciting to see where the trend takes us next.


If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:

Permanent link to this article:

May 12 2016

Philippe Virlouvet

Is Data the New King of Manufacturing Technology?

16982400_sThere’s an old saying, “The tail wags the dog.” It refers to any situation where a secondary offshoot of the main operation ends up taking control. Broadly, it can mean a shifting of the power base: the servant becomes the master. I think we may be looking at exactly this scenario in the world of manufacturing technology.

A major disruption is underway, and it’s all about the data. Or to be more accurate, it’s about what that data can tell decision-makers about quality, reliability, production processes, supply chains, materials, product design, customer demand—virtually everything a manufacturer cares about!

The ramifications will reach all the way from the far corner of the remotest shop floor to the corner office.

It’s Been a Long Road Getting to this Point

Originally, manufacturing data was merely a by-product of basic shop floor automation. Since the 1980s or so, shop floor data has been managed by Data Historian applications that capture key metrics from production equipment and processes at regular intervals, time-stamp them, and send them to an archive. Until recently, this kind of data was used primarily by specialists such as process engineers. Data was the “tail,” if you will.

How things have changed! Once management got a taste of Business Intelligence tools in the 1990s and early 2000s (and more recently analytics), they have wanted more, especially from manufacturing. “Why can’t I have more insights into manufacturing processes?” “Why can’t I relate our suppliers to quality?” “Why do we have a fortune tied up in materials?” “Why does it take a month to isolate a problem?”

Management is hungry for information about what’s going on in their operations, and the traditional Data Historian vendors are struggling to keep up with this demand.

A New Generation of Data Vendors

This need for meaningful data has spawned a new generation of software that is starting from big data “at the edge,” but is aiming for even bigger things.

Vendors in big data analytics for manufacturing are many, ranging from small start-ups to more traditional brick and mortar companies that see data as the real drivers of business. They are using the Cloud and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) to create a new business ecosystem for manufacturing—one that is built on and profits from data, almost as much as from products themselves.

Based on open source software, these new data platforms are designed for an IIoT world. They can capture data from any sensor, equipment, mobile phone or any smart device and send it to the Cloud where it can be aggregated and analyzed. They can use both structured and unstructured data. They come with developer’s tools for creating applications, and communications tools for linking to anything. Analytics can be applied to mine the data, search for problems and opportunities, explore options, and so on.

Theoretically, in this new data ecosystem, it doesn’t necessarily matter what equipment is underlying it. What matters is moving materials, buying and selling them, adjusting to market demand.

Workers are data points as well, at least from a resource point of view. We can envision a virtual team, linked by their tablets and the IIoT, redesigning products and redirecting manufacturing resources on the fly. Where those people are located physically would be irrelevant.

Here Comes the Disruption

This new data ecosystem promises to be disruptive in many ways.

For one, it will allow manufacturers to treat their production-related assets almost as liquid assets. Big multinational companies want to redefine their business models to aggressively trade any asset at the globe scale. Once you have connected all your information systems, you can trade assets across divisions within a company, or even on the public trading floor.

For example, instead of materials in inventory sitting unused and tying up capital, those materials could become a dynamic, tradeable asset creating profits for the company. As long as you can get the right material to the right place at the right time that meets production requirements, why not?

This data ecosystem can also help drive mass customization and order-of-one manufacturing. With data extractable from everything, and cross referenced to all manufacturing processes, you can find more personalized ways of creating and delivering products—because you know more about your customer, and because you know more about how to manufacture fast.

The disruption in the IT world could go far beyond the impact on Data Historian vendors. Some people are asking a straightforward question: since these big data analytics solutions will be able to provide the means to see and control all the material assets of a company, shouldn’t they be the enterprise IT platform of choice? With the power of big data analytics, a manufacturer could mine vast amounts of production and customer data, identify markets, improve processes, and even drive product or process redesign. In other words, drive the business.

If information is power, and it certainly is in today’s global marketplace, then the center of gravity in manufacturing IT may well be shifting to the big data analytics players. What was once an offshoot of simple programmable machines could now be poised to become the enterprise platform of the future! The tail is about to start wagging the dog.


If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:


Permanent link to this article:

May 03 2016

Mike Kruggel

9 Ways to Gain Efficiency in Warehouse Management

18196741_sAs with most businesses, efficiency can make the difference between profit and loss. In warehouse management, this is particularly true. The most resourceful warehouse operators use some or all of these techniques to stay ahead of the competition.

1.    Smart Layout

Successful warehouse operators have a carefully thought out plan for storage. It makes sense to store the most commonly picked items near the front of the area and items that are often sold together near one another. To ensure maximum utilization of available space, store items of a similar size and shape on the same racks. This prevents misplacing small items that slip behind large cartons, and allows the most consistent use of vertical space.

2.    Review the Layout Periodically

There are thousands of potential space and rack configurations for most warehouses, but there are only a few that allow maximum use of the available space. Since unfilled space rarely changes but product mix evolves over time, it makes sense to review your warehouse layout every one or two years to be certain it is still optimum for the current product mix. For example, many products get smaller in subsequent generations, but the space between shelves may still be utilized for the behemoths of early generations.

3.    Think Up

Before relegating popular items to the distant reaches of the warehouse, which could have an adverse impact on efficiency, consider using more of your vertical space. You might store overstock on high shelves to make space on lower shelves for more items near the front of the warehouse, for example.

4.    Standardize

Many people don’t realize how standardizing on bins, cases and shelves can improve the productivity of a warehouse. When material is stored consistently, it’s easier to find items or to put away items, Shelving can be set to the optimum distance for the standard bin sizes, for example, ensuring full use of the entire space. Standard packaging also makes it easier to find items when picking, improving organization and adding further to efficiency.

5.    Eliminate Non-Value Added Actions

The journey to lean consists of a relentless pursuit and elimination of waste. Examine all of your processes, at least annually, to ensure that unnecessary steps haven’t crept in. It also makes sense to review product mix to confirm that newly popular items are stored near the front rather than at a distance. If the warehouse is equipped with data collection, ensure there are enough stations and that they are positioned to make it easy to perform transaction entries. Check for shortages and open orders when material arrives, so the team doesn’t put it away and pick it again immediately.

6.    Training

People retain only a small percentage of the material they learn, and that percentage dwindles even further over time. While some people chafe at spending time on training warehouse personnel, the increased productivity that is gained when the team knows the best way to perform their duties can more than offset any lost time. Even long-term team members should undergo periodic refresher training. According to research published by Vanderbilt University, learning builds from previous knowledge. The more exposure learners have to information, the more of the information they will retain. A well-trained team is a proficient team, but that takes time and repetition.

7.    Sophisticated Picking Methods

Assuming they still get pick orders in batches, well-organized warehouses use wave or consolidated picking to eliminate the number of times warehouse personnel make the long trek to the back of the warehouse. By consolidating orders and picking for multiple orders on a single trip to a section or aisle, efficiency increases dramatically. Automated picking for routine products is the ultimate in efficiency.

Today, many warehouses receive pick orders in a continuous flow, which doesn’t lend itself to wave picking. These warehouses can still be effective by using streamlined business processes and working toward best practices for picking and storage.

8.    Eliminate Paper

Paper takes space; it gets lost; and it has to be printed, filed and stored. There is nothing resourceful — or green — about paper-based warehouse processes. Convert to electronic picking lists, radio-frequency (RF) devices and other paperless methods as often as possible.

9.    Consider Automation

Going through the above efficiency checklist is a great step towards improving overall profitability. For those operators still using manual systems, these steps are a great way to prepare for automation. Implementing an IT system to help with warehouse management doesn’t tell you what steps to do – it merely performs them with greater speed. Given the advanced capabilities and sophisticated planning options now available, you are really operating at a disadvantage without some sort of IT system today. Take the time to understand how your processes can work best before hiring an implementation team when considering this paperless option.


Efficiency is a combination of best practices, vigilance and common sense. Stay up to date on the newest material-handling techniques and equipment, and make sure to review all your practices and procedures frequently to ensure continuous improvement and a successful warehouse.


If you liked this article, here are others you might also find interesting:


Permanent link to this article:

Apr 28 2016

Megan Nichols

What Is Defining the Future of Aerospace Technology?

26623643_sInnovation has always been the cornerstone of the aerospace industry, and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.

Like any industry, aerospace faces its share of challenges. But since aerospace touches so many other industries, including defense and passenger aviation, there should never be a shortage of new technologies to keep the industry thriving.

Here are a few things driving new aerospace technology.

The Future of Passenger Aircraft

At a glance, the passenger airplane has undergone very few changes over the past few decades. Perhaps aircraft emissions, regulations, and standards, along with the cost of fuel, will change this, causing a need for new aerospace technology.

It’s already happening in the auto industry. Concerns over the effects diesel and unleaded fuels have on the environment led to the rise of hybrid cars.

Could the passenger airline industry be next? The cost of fuel is also a challenge for that industry, so airlines may begin looking for hybrid aircraft that would significantly lower the cost of fuel, not to mention the effect on the environment.

It may be a long way off, but innovation in the area of hybrid-electric aircraft is already underway. The UK is interested in developing the plane. The proposed aircraft will be powered by biofuel engines, which will drastically reduce emissions.

The Future of Tourism … In Space

In recent years, there has been talk that passenger space travel could be a possibility in our lifetimes, and it seems that goal nears fruition every day. In fact, just recently, Elon Musk’s SpaceX made history by successfully landing a rocket in an upright position on a barge in the Atlantic Ocean.

As consumer space tourism comes closer to reality, there will no doubt be a need for safe and efficient technologies that can be mass-produced.

The aerospace industry will have more to do than just getting passengers into space, though. For example, one company is working on a 12,000-cubic-foot inflatable space habitat that could potentially support space tourism.

The Constant Churn of Products

As we’ve seen in the computing industry, new products can fade away quickly. There’s always a new model of computer, tablet, or mobile phone right around the corner.

The same could be said for the aerospace industry. By definition, aerospace is at the forefront of technology, and there will always be a need for lighter, more compact, more durable and more efficient products — whether it’s actuators, ball splines, or stud roller systems. Engineers’ need to continuously test and create lightweight, durable material that can support the load of airplanes and spacecraft.

That’s true not only in the US, but worldwide. The US aerospace and defense sector added $5 billion in exports in 2015, with more growth expected this year, meaning demand around the world is strong.

That was nearly 10 percent of total US exports last year. To put another way, global demand for American aerospace technology is a large driver of the domestic economy and should continue to be a motivator for continued excellence in innovation.

Not Without Challenges

Aerospace is a booming industry, but it still faces its share of challenges.

One of the big ones is the defense segment of the aerospace industry — specifically, declining defense budgets. Over the past three years, decreased revenues in the US defense subsector negatively impacted global aerospace and defense industry revenue, driven by fewer large defense contracts than in years past.

There is evidence that could be changing, however. Defense budgets in several influential countries, including the US, England, France and Japan, are now on the rise — along with security threats around the world.

It’s not as if there is less of a need for aerospace innovation in the defense sector — it’s just that demand is often swayed by the state of global military conflicts, and their unpredictability is a major challenge.

Still, the aerospace industry is poised for continued growth for the foreseeable future, both in terms of revenue and technological innovation. In the coming years, there will be plenty of demand for quieter, smoother and more ergonomically sound designs, and that should continue to drive aerospace technology forward.

Permanent link to this article:

Older posts «