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What Does the Future of Smart Manufacturing Look Like?

State of Smart Manufacturing
May 4, 2022

The 2022 State of Smart Manufacturing report identified a number of key industry trends. If they continue at their current pace, what do these trends mean for the future? Let’s take a look at this hypothetical but not-so-futuristic story through the lens of Plex CTO Jerry Foster:

As head of operations at a major manufacturing facility, Maria was conflicted about introducing sweeping technology and automation changes but knew that the old way of doing things would not position the company for future success. With labor shortages, supply chain disruption, and increasingly more agile competition, the status quo would lead to decreased profits, if not outright failure.

As part of a pilot program, Maria’s company had recently invested in a new fleet of autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) that move product around the plant floor, cutting out repetitive, tedious, and dangerous tasks and filling roles that her company had been struggling to fill for years.

Her company also owned and operated factories around the world. Though skeptical at first, her colleagues in Indonesia and company leaders at headquarters had changed their tune when testing a remote assistance capability that eliminated an ongoing issue without the need for a specialized technician to be on-site. By using augmented reality devices, an engineer from Maria’s plant was able to diagnose the persistent issue, coordinate with on-site technicians to produce an adapted part through 3D printing, and install the new part to resolve the issue permanently in under a week – a task that would have previously taken months or have been altogether impossible.

The technology investments described here required upfront cost, careful planning, and change management. Within a year, the systems paid for themselves with almost immediate payback. Within two years, Maria’s company had saved $1.3 million dollars from the efficiencies gained, including:

  • Resource redeployment from artificial intelligence-assisted scheduling
  • Material reductions from a new generative design process
  • Supply chain adjustments utilizing an industry-driven blockchain
  • Task and process automation conducted by connected systems

While Maria’s world may seem far-fetched, many of these technologies are already in-use and powered by cloud-based software solutions supporting enterprise resource planning (ERP), manufacturing execution systems (MES), quality management systems (QMS), production monitoring, and supply chain planning (SCP). Some concepts presented here are awaiting a next-phase development including availability, durability, and/or cost improvement to gain widespread adoption. Like in Maria’s case, technology adoption decisions are not an-all-or-nothing choice, but rather a willingness to take one step towards improving business, and then another step, and still another step.

Start your journey today by reading the 7th Annual State of Smart Manufacturing Report.

About the Author

Jerry Foster Chief Technology Officer, Plex Systems

Jerry Foster is CTO and leads our technology strategy, along with research and design initiatives focused on next-generation cloud solutions for the manufacturing enterprise. A founding member of the Plex team, Jerry has been instrumental in the entire evolution of Plex, overseeing the technical transitions in each phase of our growth. Jerry earned his degree in Computer Science at Liberty University.