With the arrival of the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), government policies and technologies are being put in place to promote intelligent and connected solutions that are going to transform the manufacturing sector. According to the global market research firm TrendForce, the global market of technologies involved in smart manufacturing/factories is estimated to reach US$250 billion in size by 2018.
According to Jimmy Liu, IoT analyst for TrendForce, there are three major trends that are shaping the development of smart manufacturing: the transformation of manufacturing as a service, the standardization of technologies and the establishment of intelligent management systems.
Rising demand for mass customization gives rise to manufacturing as a service
Traditionally, manufacturers built their survival strategies and competitive advantages on economies of scale and cost cutting. These tenets however, are challenged. The growth of the Internet and its extension, the IoT, has led to burgeoning demand in the market for highly flexible and customizable orders. This shift toward mass customization in the manufacturing sector will ever more pronounced in the future.
Another crucial aspect in this new wave of manufacturing revolution is the value-added services derived from manufacturers’ products. General Electric (GE), for instance, have developed separate service packages for aircraft manufacturers and airlines. For manufacturers, GE provides maintenance and preventative repair for its parts. For carriers, GE offers flight efficiency services, which entail flight data analytics, fuel management, aircraft fleet management and other optimization services.
Leadership contest for technological standardization is underway
In the current phase, smart manufacturing solutions are highly varied as well as being operationally complex and independent of each other. Liu noted that as the standardization of communication technologies and interfaces become critical to the overall development of smart manufacturing, countries and enterprises will engage in fierce competitions to decide which technologies will prevail. Major industrialized countries such as the U.S., Germany and Japan are actively implementing strategies to ensure their leadership in the standardization of technologies. Industry groups and non-government organizations that also have an important stake in the standardization process include the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC), the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) and the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).
Liu added that the complexities of different manufacturing processes mean that industrial Internet technologies will be difficult to organize on a universal or global level. There is also regional variations in how manufacturers operate. Hence, all standardization efforts will still need to consider geographical contexts, and different regions will have different sets of agreements.
Intelligent production management systems based on emerging technologies and big data will spearhead the manufacturing revolution
Smart manufacturing is a revolutionized production system built on sensor technologies, IoT networks, cyber-physical systems (CPS), cloud computing, and big data analytics. Front-end sensors are responsible for monitoring the inside and outside of production facilities and collect data, which will be sent to the cloud computer via the Internet. After further analysis and cataloging in the cloud, the data will become more logical and commercially useful. With these organized data, manufacturers will be able to make decisions and send commands remotely to their facilities through a CPS, which might make additional optimization to the manufacturing process. Smart devices combined with IoT networks moreover can simplify various tasks, such as coordination among various components of the production system (e.g. personnel and equipment), setup of self-regulatory mechanisms for the facilities, and predictive modeling.
Liu concluded that the smart manufacturing revolution will change not just how companies manage their production but also the whole industry chains.