Smart Manufacturing: Connectedness & Data

Man wearing PPE gear working on a tablet inside a facility.

October 23, 2023

In today’s evolving technology landscape, “smart manufacturing” is a concept that promises to revolutionize the way the industry operates, but what is it? Buzzwords and hype around different aspects of smart manufacturing can make it difficult for plant owners and operators to know what is accessible and how to best utilize the latest technology. With experts across automation, instrumentation, operational technology networking, cybersecurity and analytics, Interstates is an expert system integrator navigating the changing terrain of smart manufacturing.

According to Dan Riley, Analytics Manager at Interstates, “Smart manufacturing is the application of data into operational processes, including utilizing instrumentation, networking, advanced automation, and analytics throughout the plant.” The term encapsulates a comprehensive integration of technology to enhance operational efficiency and resilience. It’s an answer to many of the challenges that manufacturers currently face, such as workforce shortages, disruptions in the global supply chain, and rising input costs.

Interstates’ Approach

We’re dedicated to helping clients determine where they are in their digitization journeys so they can integrate smart manufacturing solutions like advanced data collection, instrumentation, and automation into their manufacturing plants. One of the main benefits gained from these solutions is integrated process improvements. Riley emphasizes that the value of data lies in its application. He likens data to a weight scale, saying, “You have to step on the scale, look at the number, and then decide what to do about that number.” Interstates’ solutions focus on embedding analytics, networking, and automation practices directly into operational procedures. This seamless integration enables predictive maintenance, remote support, advanced process control, and state-based control.

Daren Dieleman, Vice President of Operations at Interstates, says, “At the end of the day, smart manufacturing is about helping our clients solve problems and achieve a desired future state. For example, if you can’t find enough people to work in your plant, you’re likely looking for ways to incorporate automation and robotics into your facility.”

Real-world Impact

We recently integrated advanced process controls for an oilseed processing client, resulting in a remarkable nine-month return on investment (ROI) when the anticipated ROI was over 19 months. Riley says many clients are interested in predictive maintenance, which minimizes downtime by anticipating equipment failures. Utility monitoring is another smart manufacturing strategy, helping clients identify power quality issues and anomalies in power distribution systems.

Bret Van Wyk, Director of Client Support at Interstates, mentions PID loop monitoring and bin tuning as additional smart manufacturing solutions that provide clients with heightened control over their processes, improved sustainability and quality, and reduced downtime. “Interstates offers full services through the entire maturity of the smart manufacturing journey, from foundational elements through advanced analytics solutions,” he says.

Security is #1

As systems become more connected, vulnerabilities increase. Van Wyk says, “Security is a foundational element of smart manufacturing. As additional devices are connected on the manufacturing plant floor, the security footprint grows significantly. It’s crucial to understand your risk and protect your critical elements in the process.” Interstates prioritizes security in its solutions, designing secure networks and ensuring a robust and protected environment for our clients. Dieleman says security is “everything,” adding, “I don’t know of any client that would risk implementing a solution that doesn’t have the appropriate level of security.”

An Eye on the Future

Riley says the future is bright for American manufacturers deploying smart manufacturing solutions. “I only see it accelerating in the next five to ten years, partly due to macro pressures like the vast number of experienced operators retiring and new engineers coming out of school natively trained on data. Our clients need to be integrating these data systems now in order to attract the best talent,” he says. He predicts more manufacturing will come back to the United States as the industry becomes more intelligent through the use of information, applied automation, and applied networking. Riley underscores the disparity between marketing hype and the groundwork required for successful implementation. Many organizations, enticed by the allure of AI and machine learning, overlook the foundation of basic data collection and integration.

Smart manufacturing is more than just a buzzword – it’s a journey toward ideal, efficient operations. With security as a cornerstone and a commitment to innovation, Interstates is ready to be your partner for a smarter, more resilient manufacturing future.