Manufacturing Gets Smart

The industrial hype machine has not worked this hard since the early days of the Internet.

The object of its affections is the full-on mashup of manufacturing with modern information technologies. This goes by many names, from Industrie 4.0 and digital manufacturing to cyberphysical systems and smart—no, make that brilliant—factories.

What they all have in common is the use of intelligent software and machines to interact with one another (and with people) autonomously, both in the factory and through the cloud. According to boosters, this new combination of brains and muscle will revolutionize manufacturing in ways that rival the introduction of steam, electricity, and automation.

Beyond the hype, this could lead to some real and startling changes.

Author Alan S. Brown takes us down a path of understanding what these changes look like:

  • instantaneous feedback for engineers from the shop floor
  • factory machines and logistics equipment would communicate with one another autonomously to assign and route jobs through the factory
  • ability to change a product in CAD and have those changes propagate automatically to product and factory simulations
  • link factory software with downstream supply chains and upstream customer service data
  • see exactly how product parts behaved by the use of a digital twin, a model that is an exact virtual twin of that product
  • an industrial Internet of Things powered by cheap sensors and controllers, some with distributed intelligence, that engineers can slap onto everything from milling centers to RFID readers that track work in progress
  • use of centralized data centers (cloud computing) to help manage shop floor production in smart factories

Read more detail from Mechanical Engineering, September 2016