Troy-based Plex Systems, which offers a smart manufacturing platform, has found that among global manufacturers, 24 percent have implemented a smart manufacturing initiative. Another 22 percent are in the pilot stages. The findings were revealed in Plex’s fifth annual study, the State of Manufacturing Technology.
The study was developed with the support of the research and analyst firm LNS Research. It says smart manufacturing, also known as Industry 4.0, encompasses the convergence of physical and digital systems, leading to the rise of smart factories.
“Smart manufacturers have better control and visibility across their operations than their peers, allowing them to more quickly and accurately adjust to changing market conditions, including crises such as COVID-19,” says Jerry Foster, chief technology officer at Plex. “While most companies surveyed do not identify as smart manufacturers today, what is encouraging is that we are seeing a growing appetite to adopt smart manufacturing practices. This appetite, combined with an increasingly reliable blueprint for success as demonstrated by industry leaders, indicates that the smart manufacturing movement will only increase from here.”
The survey also found that companies that have realized the benefits of smart manufacturing pilot programs achieve this success by clearly defining business outcomes; identifying the processes, technology, and training necessary to achieve business outcomes; and successfully implementing the technology and driving adoption to fully realize the expected value.
“Our new research shows that companies successfully transforming into smart manufacturers are building on robust yet flexible business and operational systems,” says Matt Littlefield, president and principal analyst at LNS Research. “Without an integrated approach to manufacturing software that can deliver a single source of truth, manufacturers will likely find themselves losing the competitive battle for agility and making sub-optimal decisions in siloes.”
Clinton Township’s Sanders and Morley Candy invested in new hardware and software in its production lines, automating packaging processes and adopting a cloud-based enterprise resource planning system, gaining greater visibility and control over its operations. The company attributes empowered sales and faster product testing and development to the updates, as well as allowing the company to redeploy its staff to complete higher-value tasks throughout the organization. The company says the changes have helped it achieve double-digit growth with plans to reach $100 million in revenues in the coming years.
The survey also found that manufacturers believe future growth will rely on operational improvements such as cost reductions (37 percent), increased capacity (24 percent), and new production initiatives (40 percent).
In the next 12-18 months, manufacturers said they plan to fund new production technology (44 percent), followed by operational systems such as industrial automation, manufacturing operations management or manufacturing execution systems, and enterprise manufacturing intelligence (34 percent).
However, the researchers expect that, given the impacts of COVID-19 since the survey was conducted, future investments could be shifted toward supply chain planning technologies. According to a survey conducted by the National Association of Manufacturers from Feb. 28-March 9, 35.5 percent of its member companies were facing supply chain disruption.
The three most-hyped technologies in the Plex study were 3-D printing/additive manufacturing (28 percent), machine learning tied with industrial-hardened devices (24 percent), and blockchain (23 percent). The findings indicate that while specific applications are seeing success, there is not yet a clear path to their application within the manufacturing environment.
The full report is available for free download here.
Plex’s annual survey collects information globally to measure current technology use as well as implementation plans. This year’s report compiled feedback from about 200 executives, business leaders, and information technology, operations, and engineering professionals across a range of company sizes and geographies. The research focuses on manufacturers in the automotive, aerospace and defense, consumer goods, food and beverage, and industrial equipment industries.