Thinking about Smart Manufacturing ? Be strategic about Designing your Manufacturing Processes & Layout

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Simplify before you revolutionize

Yes- you have heard it right. Smart Manufacturing is the future ! Technology is maturing at such an exponential speed that manufacturers of all size will eventually be able to elevate their Manufacturing to a Smart manufacturing platform. Now there are two aspects to it. One is- how do you scale the automation of your manufacturing layout to transition to a Smart manufacturing platform. In this article though, we will discuss the other aspect. How can you re-engineer your existing manufacturing layout strategically to not only develop best in class manufacturing layout but also making it easier to develop Smart manufacturing capabilities.

The Five levers of redesigning proceses for Smart Manufacturing

In early 1980S, Groover et all, proposed 10 strategies for automation. The definition of automation and the technologies of automation were obviously significantly different back then. However, if you review those strategies now , many of them are no longer relevant in today’s context . But combining some of the relevant ones, you can develop five key levers to strategize about redesigning your manufacturing processes to make them a good candidate for digitization of manufacturing.


I consistently emphasize the importance of flexibility in manufacturing and often, it is perceived that flexibility comes at the cost of specialization. However, that is not true. Specialized equipments and capabilities can exist within a flexible manufacturing environment as well. Specialization, attained through specialized equipments can generate significant efficiencies, and from a Smart manufacturing implementation perspective, makes the process complexity simpler.


Now we know that production often occurs as a sequence of operations. Some complex parts may require several processing steps. Leveraging the strategy of combination of process, you can reduce the number of distinct production machines or workstations through which the path travels in the process. Combination can be achieved by various approaches, like, performing more than one operation at one workstation or machine. It should not be very difficult to imagine that engineering machines/workstations to multitask will reduce the complexity of Digital manufacturing implementation as well.


This is a logical extension of the “Combination” lever, where you essentially simultaneously perform operations that have been combined at one workstation. In effect, two mo more processing (or assembly) operations are being performed simultaneously on the same work part, thus reducing the total processing time. And just like “Combination” lever, this multitasking will reduce the complexity of Digital manufacturing implementation as well.


The “Integration” strategy involves linking several workstations together into a single integrated mechanism, using automated work handling devices to transfer parts between stations. In effect, this reduces the number of seperate work centers through which the product must be scheduled. With more tha one workstation, several parts can be processed simultaneously, thereby increasing the overall output of the system.

As you can imagine, this “integrated” system allows you to implement these interweaved stations as one system in your Digital manufacturing implementation, thereby significantly reducing the complexity of implementation.


Flexibility in manufacturing, as you may know, pertains to achieving maximum utilization from assets/equipments by using same assets/equipments for a variety of parts and products. It generally already leverages some form of programmable or flexible automation to achieve this. In addition to capacity utilization and optimization, there are other benefits of this setup like reduced setup time, lower manufacturing lead time and less work in progress.

Views my own. Strategic levers adapted from Groover et al.

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