Manufacturing technology transformation

Digitalization will accelerate, pushing manufacturers to transform and enabling innovation.

Whether it is consumer and commercial tech moving onto the production floor or into the field, or rapid advances in artificial intelligence and cyber-physical systems, the digital transformation of industry will accelerate.

Cyber-physical systems involve transdisciplinary approaches, merging the theory of cybernetics, mechatronics, design, and process science. Examples of cyber-physical systems include industrial control systems, smart grids, autonomous vehicles, medical monitoring, robotics systems, automatic pilot avionics, and other targets of Industry 4.0.

Rapidly advancing technologies provide the means for manufacturing companies to achieve highly efficient, real-time synchronized production as a holistic enterprise rather than as a collection of functional silos. This is driving the integration of supply chain, operations, automation, customer service, and logistics.

Industrial operations are experiencing a massive shift toward digitalization made possible through multivendor open solutions. Open systems enable efficient and frictionless integration—a path the information technology (IT) industry has been on for many years. In manufacturing, the use of open source code and standards has been accelerated by the Internet of Things.

Understanding new technology solutions and creatively applying them to improve manufacturing and production processes will become a key success factor to sustain a competitive advantage. Communication is being commoditized, enabling low-cost data acquisition and linkage of real-time business systems with production from sensor to enterprise.

Controls and automation previously done by programmable logic controllers, distributed control systems, and other dedicated controllers is being replaced by edge and embedded computing. Analytics and advance control incorporated into edge computers and smart sensors create more responsive and efficient systems.

With greater customization of products and processes, there is pressure to develop faster and more adaptable production environments. These incorporate flexible process production technologies, including 3D printing, robotics, collaborative robots, and mechatronics.

The commoditization of manufacturing technologies will enable small and medium enterprise manufacturers (SMEs) to compete with large manufacturers and broadens the base of the automation industry. This is a parallel to what happened in the computer industry with the advent of the PC, bringing large-company efficiencies with business systems, computer-aided design, and machine tool controls to small companies.

Key elements and drivers

  • Make-to-order manufacturing and demand for customized products
  • Real-time digital integration, sensor to enterprise
  • Communications flexibility, including wired Ethernet and wireless (e.g., Wi-Fi, 5G, Bluetooth)
  • Increasingly intelligent robots and collaborative robots
  • Subject-matter experts empowered by no-code programming
  • Multivendor integrated systems and open standards

Impact for industry

  • Manufacturing business and production integration and digitalization required to be competitive
  • Competition will come from a widening base, including worldwide and small and medium enterprise manufacturers
  • Because developing economies will leverage the latest technologies, established organizations need to rethink manufacturing automation investment strategies

For ISA members and leaders

  • Understanding of and leadership participation in evolving world standards
  • Educate manufacturing general management and automation professionals about integration of business systems, operations, and automation
  • Educate manufacturing general management and automation professionals about investment analysis
  • Training for the application of analytics and data science concepts as functional building blocks
  • Automation certification programs elevating the profession

This article is part of September/October 2020 InTech—the ISA 75th Anniversary Special Edition