Smart Manufacturing, the Modular Way

When you use the modular approach to a smart-manufacturing conversion, you don’t have to do it all at once. You can implement advanced automation technology application by application.

The most common move toward smart manufacturing may be step-by-step, application-by-application. When automation vendors show off their impressive advanced manufacturing operations, they often point to greenfield installations, those new plants that deploy smart manufacturing from the ground up.

automation and control, smart manufacturing, Parsec, MES, KPI, OEE, manufacturing equipmentYet the more common move toward smart manufacturing is in the world of brownfield installations using older equipment. “The average age of a plant in North America is 40 years old, and we do 40% of our business here,” Greg Newman, VP of Marketing at Parsec told Design News . “There is a lot of brownfield rather than greenfield, and that’s part of the reason we went to a modular system.”

Not surprisingly, we heard this refrain over and over at the Advanced Design and Manufacturing show in Cleveland last month. Manufacturers attending the conference asked how they can deploy advanced software using their existing equipment. Newman may as well have been answering their questions when he told us, “We try to be pragmatic. You can start with one area of your plant and improve that by replacing software that isn’t working.”

Facing the Complexity of Manufacturing

While advanced automation is the talk of every manufacturing conference, small- to mid-size companies struggle with how to bring it into their plants. “Smart manufacturing has been promised since at least 2005. The term is a clever one, but what does it really mean? In our opinion, smart manufacturing means operating with greater visibility, knowledge, and control,” said Newman. “To do that you need to be connected to what’s happening on your factory floor.”

Switching to digitized control does not usually come with an easy first step, even though the concept is not new. “How hard can smart manufacturing be? What has taken so long? It’s taken long because manufacturing is complex,” said Newman. “The first and biggest challenge in connecting all those machines – most of which are decades old and were never designed to be connected.”

The steps can be spelled out, but they’re not easy. At one conference, an attendee said his plant is just now switching from clipboard data to Excel. And even that can be daunting. “There’s the need to gather the volumes of data generated manually, and pair those data with the data from the machines, to create a cohesive picture,” explained Newman. “Last, but certainly not least, you must make sense of all that operating information, so you can take action. Turns out, that’s tougher than it appears.”

Piece-by-Piece Versus All at Once

Newman explaind that not every implementation has to be a jump-off to a broad system. “In typical fashion, technology solutions have taken two approaches: point solutions that address one particular problem, and broad-based platforms that attempt to manage an entire process,” said Newman. “Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) fall into the latter category.”

Parsec began life in the trenches, deploying technology to existing equipment. “We’ve been at this since 1990. We started as a systems integrator in manufacturing. So we have deep roots in manufacturing,” said Newman. “Over the years, as our skills grew, we realized we were

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