In the wake of the latest industrial revolution, or Industry 4.0, as it is called, it becomes more important than ever to discern between smart and digital manufacturing.
These two terms are often used interchangeably by those not well acquainted with modern industry practices. This can lead them down a blind avenue and cause them to spend money on something they don’t really understand.
But that’s why we’re here! In this little article, we’re going to present to you both of these concepts, their features, pros, and cons, as well as their similarities and differences.
Smart Manufacturing – When Your Factories Smarten Up
Let’s start with smart manufacturing (SM for short). Smart manufacturing is, in essence, a technology-driven approach to the entire production chain (from product design to distribution) featuring big data analytics to streamline the whole process.
But what does that mean specifically? On a smaller scale, SM means the integration of your production process into a singular network. This means that your factory will become one system comprising many smaller systems that all work in unison.
In essence, SM is the heart of Industry 4.0. Internet of Things, combined with big data analysis, robotics, and automation systems will allow manufacturers to not only create (nearly) fully automated facilities but connect those facilities to others like them, thus creating a whole network of smart factories and warehouses.
You don’t believe us? Well, check this out: 72% of respondents to a query conducted by Statista in 2020 have said that they’re looking into SM technologies, especially IoT, big data, robotics, and AI/machine learning.
So, how does one achieve SM? What is the Internet of Things, and how does it tie into this new industrial boom?
Well, let’s answer the second question first – what is IoT? IoT (sometimes known as IIoT – Industrial Internet of Things) is the concept that several machines can be integrated into a single network and communicate with one another.
Think of it along the lines of a smart house – appliances in your home will be connected via the internet to a central hub like Alexa that you then use to issue orders and queue actions.
The same thing happens in factories – machines within the factory are equipped with sensors that send information to a mainframe computer that processes the data and makes predictions.
This smart manufacturing software then allows you to make adjustments and anticipate events, thus letting you circumvent bottlenecks and increasing the efficiency of your factory.
Another thing smart manufacturing often includes is digital twins. Digital twins are real-time 3D duplicates of products or processes. Think of them as very advanced simulations that you can manipulate in real-time, input data, and get instant feedback.
Digital twins are already being implemented in a wide variety of industries. Their primary benefit is that they provide real-time data around the clock, thus allowing you to change parameters on the fly, and immediately get info back, enabling you to act upon that info immediately.
In the end, think of SM as a very broad, all-encompassing concept within Industry 4.0. SM seeks to not only automate a single factory or warehouse but create a vast network that comprises multiple automated facilities, all working as one to create the most efficient production process from early design stages to distribution.
Digital Manufacturing – a Cog in the Machine
Now that we know what SM is, what is digital manufacturing, then? What makes DM distinct and different from SM? How will you know which one to implement, if they aren’t already interchangeable?
Well, the main difference is in scope. As we said, SM is a comprehensive concept embodying the whole production to distribution process – DM, on the other hand, is a single cog in that grand machine.
To be more precise, digital manufacturing involves computer processes that help streamline the production process, and remove hazards and inefficiencies. DM also tracks the product throughout its entire life cycle – it also collects customer feedback to anticipate the rise and fall in demand, as well as servicing of the product.
So, where is digital manufacturing most present? Who uses it, and why? What makes DM a projected $1.3 trillion industry globally by 2030?
For now, digital manufacturing is most prominent in the automotive, aerospace, and defense industries. These industries create products that require a lot of attention to little details, as the failure of the product can mean severe losses of life and property.
This is why these industries make use of the aforementioned digital twin technology. DTs enable these industries to test out their products before they go live on the market and to ensure they are well serviced and maintained.
On top of this, DM also improves the overall efficiency of your system. Before, companies would resort to something called batch and queue manufacturing, where large batches of the product were produced regardless of whether they were needed or demanded.
As you can already guess, this not only creates a situation where those products crowd your warehouses where they depreciate in value, but, if they have a defect, that defect is going to plague your entire batch!
With DM, however, you get live data on demand for the product, allowing you to adjust your production volume on the fly. Not only that, but if a defect arises, you will be able to spot it early and correct it before it hits the shelves.
Benefits of Digital and Smart Manufacturing
Finally, let us discuss the benefits of DM and SM. What makes them so enticing? What makes these forms of manufacturing brilliant enough concepts to be considered forefront for the next industrial revolution?
The greatest benefit of DM and SM lies within data analysis and the way it allows multiple systems to act together. Though this is not a new concept by any means, new technologies allow for incredibly fast analysis of insurmountable amounts of data, in real-time!
Being able to process this much data means you can create very accurate simulations and make incredibly precise predictions. This, in turn, allows for streamlining of processes almost to perfection, where no resource is wasted and the quality of the product remains high at all times.
By preserving the quality of your product throughout its life cycle and using your resources in such an efficient manner, you’re also boosting your income. Efficient use of time and resources has always been a major concern for manufacturers, and these new methods of production will finally put an end to those concerns.
However, such advanced technology doesn’t come without its downsides. For one, this kind of technology is incredibly expensive to set up and maintain.
The amount of data consumed, created, copied, and analyzed is predicted to reach 181 zettabytes (1 zettabyte = 1 trillion gigabytes) by 2025, which means you will need incredibly powerful systems and software that can keep up with all the data coming your way.
Secondly, these kinds of manufacturing processes require a new kind of worker. Not only will you need skilled help to set up the entire process, but you’ll need people who will monitor and maintain your systems to ensure everything works like a well-oiled machine.
And, with that, we’ll wrap up our little article on digital and smart manufacturing. As you’ve seen, SM and DM are very ambitious concepts, comprising cutting-edge technology and very advanced manufacturing techniques.
The raw data analysis potential and smart integration with machines and manufacturing processes make them ideal for large-scale manufacturing and promise an impressive turn of profit. As such, they are extremely lucrative and desirable for a 21st-century manufacturer.
Rick Seidl is a digital marketing specialist with a bachelor’s degree in Digital Media and communications, based in Portland, Oregon. He carries a burning passion for digital marketing, social media, small business development, and establishing its presence in a digital world, and is currently quenching his thirst through writing about digital marketing and business strategies for SEO turnover.