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Traditionally, large manufacturing companies benefited from scale. They could put money, resources, and in-house expertise into implementing massive enterprise-level software like an ERP or MRP.
Smaller companies with limited resources, capital, and expertise under their roof had trouble acquiring the benefits of such software. This disadvantage meant they had to utilize manual data collection, tracking, analysis, and process improvement - which was much less efficient than that of their larger, more resource-rich competitors.
Industry 4.0 technologies and the advent of smart manufacturing changed all that. The arrival of big data and the powerful analytics and machine learning algorithms that powered it provided new, flexible, and scalable solutions that leveled the playing field.
Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing software solutions are scalable to larger entities but also adaptable to the needs of small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs). Large companies can still do a full-scale implementation, but now, SMBs can also benefit from these technologies.
This software also allows companies of any size to take a more incremental approach. For larger companies, an incremental approach may spread capital expenditure or enable them to bring divisions or plants online based on business needs.
Likewise, smaller companies may adopt modular, configurable Industry 4.0 technologies to address a specific need, gain control of data or a specific process, or as part of a "pay as you go" technology investment strategy.
Regardless of the size of the manufacturing enterprise, today’s IIoT best practices are instructive: get into the game and start somewhere, as the benefits outweigh the risks and justify the return on investment.
There are many types of Industry 4.0 technologies that companies of all sizes can use quickly and with impressive results:
Cloud computing significantly reduces or eliminates the need for in-house IT. It helps enable the convergence of IT and OT and reduces storage and IT infrastructure costs.
But its most significant benefit is in its ability to power advanced smart manufacturing platforms with immense flexibility. It’s also capable of handling large quantities of data required for advanced analytics platforms.
Cyber-physical systems are the next step in machine automation. Most are familiar with physical actions being triggered by electronic signals, and this action may be a single simple solenoid or actuator on a machine.
Cyber-physical systems represent the full integration of mechanical and electronic action. The mechanical elements of equipment, software, and electronics are intertwined so that these systems can be managed as a single unit instead of simply being connected. They’re controlled by algorithms that work across all three system elements.
AI is an advanced type of computing that moves computers from calculating and organizing to mimicking human intelligence. These systems can undertake problem-solving, perform tasks, and improve performance based on collected data.
IIoT is the collection of devices, sensors, edge computing, and other control systems that connect machines and equipment to a cloud-based analytics engine. This provides actionable insights that enable process improvement and optimization, higher quality, and in some industries, the reality of "lights-out" manufacturing.
All these technologies enhance operations and optimize processes. However, a smart manufacturing platform is the most flexible and accessible Industry 4.0 technology that both large and small companies can acquire.
A smart manufacturing platform can include many Industry 4.0 technologies like powerful analytics, cloud computing, advanced machine learning algorithms, and AI. It can connect to IIoT-enabled equipment to manage a connected factory and power and manage cyber-physical systems in a smart factory.
Such a solution caters to manufacturers of all sizes. Large companies using smart manufacturing software benefit from massive data to optimize their processes and control cost and quality. SMBs can pick the low-hanging fruit and tackle their most pressing process issues first as they conduct a more incremental approach.
Smart manufacturing doesn't have to be a huge, expensive undertaking. For example, with the Plex Smart Manufacturing Platform your entry point can be almost anywhere. The platform is modular, and companies can apply a range of capabilities to address their most pressing issues first.
This flexibility means companies have more accessible and faster onramps at cost-effective entry points. A smaller company may want to pursue only production monitoring, while a larger enterprise may look to massive data streams to optimize all processes through a manufacturing execution system (MES).
As a decision maker, the choice to deploy Industry 4.0 technologies may be all-in or incremental. But with available platforms, it should never be to take a pass and stand still and wait. Whether you go big or go small, the time to get going is right now.
Dig deeper and plan your IIoT strategy with help from The Beginners Guide to IIoT.