Don’t wait for the standards to be finished before implementing smart manufacturing

By David A. Vasko

Smart manufacturing is called different things: Manufacturing USA (U.S.), Industrie 4.0 (Germany), China 2025 (China), or Industrie du Futur (France). The U.K., Sweden, Japan, Korea, and India also all have country-specific efforts, and new initiatives are emerging daily. Consortia such as Industrial Internet Consortium, OPC Foundation, and Open Process Automation Forum also have initiatives underway. What do they have in common? They all are:

  • creating a vision for smart manufacturing
  • using digitalization to help manufacturers reduce capital expenditures, improve time to market, reduce inventory, and improve productivity
  • working to use and extend existing standards to realize the vision

The last point is an important distinction. These initiatives are not creating new standards but determining how best to use or extend existing standards. That means the groundwork for smart manufacturing and other initiatives is being done in standard-developing organizations like IEC, ISO, ISA, IEEE, and the OPC Foundation. That is where the influence starts, and leadership takes hold.

Countries and companies around the world are eager to adopt digitalization strategies. It levels the playing field for smaller companies that can gain the same benefits as bigger companies and remain globally competitive and relevant. What this means is if you look only at one initiative, you will have a limited view of the global movement. You must look at global standards to understand global impact. So rather than the name of the initiative differentiating the work, it is the standards behind that initiative that make the difference.

The time to start is now

For organizations waiting to start their journey to smart manufacturing until new standards are complete, I have to say, do not wait for them all to be finished. You can start now. Industrial Internet of Things standards (I4.0) will take decades to come to the ideal state where data flows seamlessly among multivendor applications and devices. But rather than see that as a reason to delay, I see that as a reason to start now.

Industry is slow to adapt to new technologies, mostly because it can take decades to replace existing assets with new, smart manufacturing versions. The transition should take place in phases. Smart manufacturing is not a moment in time. A good strategy thinks about how to use current standards to facilitate change that matters today-and support future evolution.

Why it matters

The Connected Enterprise uses the best of the international standards defining smart manufacturing. National initiatives and industry consortia are monitored and enhanced, so the Connected Enterprise can use the best international standards as they emerge. That is going to be important when we talk about another aspect of smart manufacturing: speed.

Speed is a challenge for everyone. International standards that support operations technology (OT) are mature and can take a few years to evolve. In information technology (IT), the timing is in months. Like apps on your phone, there is always something new. By the time a standard can form around it, there is something newer.

Initiatives need to be agile enough to address emerging trends and technology. Right now, that is not the case. Industrie 4.0, for example, plans to release yearly updates on its interfaces and relevant standards, but it is probably many years from describing the requirements for compliant products. We do not know what our IT landscape will be in a year, much less years from now. There are applications in the IT space that will evolve, gain acceptance, and become obsolete within five years.

It is smart to continually look for and implement improvements. The goal is to sort through standards, apps, and services to find the right ones for right now and to constantly assess them using a cost-versus-benefit analysis. That is how you determine where you can make the biggest impact for manufacturing-and find the next opportunity for improvement.

In just the past few years industry has harnessed never-before-seen levels of processing power, mobility, and visualization. We can now get any information we need, from anywhere, and at any time.

Standardization is working behind the scenes, and we must continue to align with those standards to support smart manufacturing in whatever terms you want to use: Manufacturing USA, Industrie 4.0, China 2025, or Industrie du Futur.

For more information on the future of smart manufacturing, tune in to the "State of the Industry" podcast. It explores the impact of disruptive technologies, workforce issues, and global business trends.

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About the Author

Executive Corner Nov-Dec Headshot imgDavid A. Vasko is the director of advanced technology at Rockwell Automation. He is responsible for applied R&D and global product standards and regulations and is charged with developing and managing technology for future industrial automation products.

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