Food Engineering

Manufacturing in the digital age: All aboard!

July 5, 2011
Processors that don’t seriously embrace automation could be left behind.


President Obama’s Advanced Manufacturing Partnership plan has been supported by the release of a new report, Implementing 21st Century Smart Manufacturing. The report was developed by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC). The document establishes a road map and sets the top 10 priorities for modernizing 20th century factories with 21st century digital information and automation technology to change the way manufacturing is done and realize benefits in operational costs, efficiency and competitiveness.

Advanced manufacturing technology is rapidly transforming the global competitive landscape, according to two of the SMLC leaders: Jim Davis, vice provost IT, chief technology officer for the University of California at Los Angeles, and Sujeet Chand, chief technology officer for Rockwell Automation. The companies-and nations-that act now to seize its promise will thrive in the 21st century. Those who fail to fully engage in smart manufacturing will rapidly fall behind, according to the two SMLC leaders.

While US industry is making incremental progress in using smart manufacturing, the infrastructure needed to deliver the full potential of this knowledge-based manufacturing environment has yet to be developed, according to the report. This infrastructure will enable processors to run flexible factories of the future, keying into the control system what products they want made; reduce time-to-market; drive greater exports due to lower production costs; minimize energy use and materials while maximizing environmental sustainability and create opportunities for increasingly skilled workers.

The SMLC and the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) have formed a working partnership to build a National Smart Manufacturing Ecosystem. It is an iPhone-like “App Store” for industrial modeling and simulation applications and their rapid application. NCMS is also providing its Predictive Innovation Center (PIC) strategy to link nationally to other modeling and simulation centers while extending its outreach to small and medium-sized enterprises.

“There are nearly 300,000 small and medium-sized manufacturers in the US that could be using advanced manufacturing but have found barriers to adoption,” says Rick Jarman, NCMS president & CEO. “Our national PIC strategy and our collaboration with SMLC will make these tools accessible and affordable to manufacturers of all sizes.”

Along with representatives from 50 leading manufacturers, technology suppliers, universities and other organizations, Rockwell Automation, UCLA and the University of Texas at Austin organized a workshop last September that defined the road map and action plan for implementing smart manufacturing. The report prioritizes four areas that need to be developed:

  • Industrial community modeling and simulation platforms for smart manufacturing
  • Affordable industrial data collection and management systems
  • Enterprise-wide integration: business systems, manufacturing plants and suppliers
  • Education and job training skills needed for smart manufacturing design, operation and maintenance.

“We want to clearly emphasize that no single company or industry segment can achieve this transformation alone, and time is of the essence,” says SMLC Co-founder Tom Edgar, a chemical engineering professor with UT-Austin.

Smart manufacturing will provide new ways to extend the essential productivity gains that have kept many US manufacturers globally competitive during the past decade. In addition to cost- and time-savings, it can optimize energy use, improve carbon footprints and promote environmental sustainability. Further benefits include reduced plant maintenance costs, improved product and personnel and plant safety. Potential improvements in supply chain interaction will also dramatically reduce inventories, increase product customization and enhance product availability.