Building the foundation for Smart Manufacturing

Seeing beyond the fog

If you are a manufacturer, you are probably swamped with information from plenty of channels regarding Smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0. There is no doubt that Smart manufacturing is emerging as a must have capability in the future for manufacturers. Now we all know that getting there is not going to be a step change process. You do not flip a switch to transition to a Smart factory….the process  needs to be gradual in my opinion.

The four foundation pillars

This brings me to a question that many Manufacturing leaders ask: What areas should we start focussing on as far as our manufacturing operations goes ? Afterall, through their experience, they know that they need to start building foundations in those areas. Based on my experience, the following are the four areas they need to focus on:

  • Systems connectivity
  • Automation
  • Visibility
  • Analytics

In the description of each of the pillars in the subsequent section, you will see a “start by” section. This is not a detailed description of how you can build the capabilities in that foundational area but a hint to get you to start thinking. Evaluating each area and creating a roadmap for each of the four areas is an exhaustive process.

Understanding the foundational pillars in detail

Systems Connectivity

A key aspect of Smart Manufacturing environments is that all plant equipments such as will communicate with each other, with a central control system, which will then integrate with systems above them…all the way to an enterprise system level connectivity.

Start by understanding first your systems, then connectivity between systems and evaluate gaps. In today’s world, cloud architectures make connectivity between systems much easier via application programming interfaces (APIs). As an example, connecting IIoT to an Manufacturing Execution System (MES) can help avoid unplanned downtime, and connecting both to enterprise resource planning (ERP) provides immediate visibility into asset status throughout the business.


As I have repeatedly mentioned in my posts and articles, Automated factories do not mean Smart Factories. Automated factories though are essential to develop Smart Factories and hence are one of the foundational pillars.

Start by evaluating your current Production technology (which is different from production information systems) .Production technology goes beyong having physical robots in your Manufacturing lines.In addition to the ability to automate mundane or error-prone tasks like labeling or counting, production technology can accurately inspect products and record scrap reasons. Software can automate paper or email-based business processes with electronic workflows.

Further, robotic process automation (RPA) can then automate repetitive workflow tasks, and coupled with machine learning, continually improve the process over time. For example, on detection of non-conforming products or materials, the system can trace that source material back through the production line and to a place where it can be automatically rejected or marked for removal, also streamlining the approval process.


Just like automation in Manufacturing, Tracking inventory and processes isn’t a new concept, although leveraging the digital thread of the resulting electronic “paper trail” will be a fundamental  capability in the world of smart processes and smart factories.

Start by evaluating where you current tracking capabilities like. Are you real time ? If not, how “real time” your real time capabilities need to be ? What type of Business Intelligence tools you have internally to gain that tracking capability ?


In my opinion, since the technology behind Smart Manufacturing, thanks to cloud technology, will be accessible to companies of all sizes, the real differentiator in Smart Manufacturing domain will be analytical capabilities.

Real-time manufacturing intelligence helps to report and visualize critical key performance indicators (KPIs) for quicker, more confident decision-making. But the key is contextual analytics -Powerful, contextual analytics drive informed decision-making from asset performance on the shop floor to business performance on the top floor and maintain detailed historical records for future trend analyses.

Combining the above capabilities in a platform, along with artificial intelligence (AI), the resulting platform can discern and report patterns in the data that humans would be unable to see.

And to be very realistic-Unlike AI in the movies, the platform provides humans with better data to make smarter decisions.

Start by leveraging simple descriptive analytics. True and sustainable analytical capabilities always start small. Prepapre a roadmap to get to more advanced analytical capabilties.


As mentioned above, evaluating each area and creating a roadmap for each of the four areas is an exhaustive process but it is something that you need to get started on as soon as possible. The evaluation, gap analysis and roadmap will differ from one Industry to another and may differ even betwen players in the same Industry, As I consistently say:

With technology becoming commpdity, what will provide you an edge is NOT what technology you implement but: Building the right technology portfolio and integrating it effectively with your unique business nuances.


Views my own.

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