"Smart manufacturing is in the midst of transforming the global manufacturing economy" according to the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF).
In their report A Policy Maker's Guide to Smart Manufacturing they go on to say:
The digitalization of manufacturing will transform how products are designed, fabricated, used, operated, and serviced post-sale, as much as it will transform the operations, processes, and energy footprint of factories and the management of manufacturing supply chains.
They see this as changing the competitive landscape of of manufacturing industries by reducing the relative competitive advantage of low-wage nations. This means higher labor cost nations, like the U.S., could see stronger manufacturing growth through the use of smart manufacturing technologies.
The report nicely describes the key smart manufacturing technologies. These are:
Sensor Technologies: Sensors embedded within devices, machines, and products themselves measure everything from output, consumption, wear, and capacity to salient operating conditions such as temperature, humidity, and electrical flow. Sensors play a key role in creating the information streams upon which smart manufacturing techniques rely.
Wireless Connectivity: Smart manufacturing requires wireless connectivity to join the wide variety of sensors, actuators, and robotics to analytics or control platforms.
Data Analytics: The ability to effectively analyze the massive amounts of data generated by individual plants, entire factories, whole supply chains, and the manufactured products themselves is vital for the vision of smart manufacturing to be realized.
Generative Design: A design technique that mimics nature’s evolutionary approach to design, in which designers or engineers input design goals into generative design software, along with parameters such as materials, manufacturing methods, and cost constraints, and the software algorithmically explores all possible permutations of a design solution. We used to call this biomimicry.
Computer-Aided Design (CAD): Refers to the use of computer systems to aid in the creation, modification, analysis, or optimization of designs of parts, final products, and even entire production systems or factory environments.
Advanced Robotics: The next generation of industrial robots that are far cheaper and which are reprogrammable and thus not dedicated to a single specific task and as such are much more flexible and versatile.
We're a little surprised 3D printing didn't make their list. But it's getting plenty of PR these days, so it probably didn't need to be included.
Digitalization is impacting all industries at this point. It's also democratizing most industries and allowing even one person companies to compete in ways only giant corporations could have only a few years ago.
As we cover in our small manufacturing section, these new technologies are creating vast opportunities for small manufacturing firms.