The Future of Manufacturing is Here: Are You Ready?

Stock image of a person taking notes in front of a computer monitor.

Raymond Berning | February 14, 2024

While the rapid transformation of manufacturing through automation is not new, the pace at which companies need to adopt these technologies to remain competitive can be daunting. Automation continues to gain traction across the industry, driven by the need for increased efficiency, improved quality control, and enhanced product and worker safety. However, navigating this rapidly evolving landscape and selecting the right technologies can be a complex challenge for many manufacturers.

To stay competitive, operators must understand current automation trends, their implications, and how implementing relevant technologies can benefit their operations.

Integrating Cybersecurity Protection

As hackers become more advanced, cybersecurity is becoming increasingly crucial. The impact of a cybersecurity breach can be severe, causing facility shutdowns, contamination of products, and a damaged reputation. Solid cybersecurity measures are essential to safeguard critical operations and maintain consumer trust.

The growing use of automation and connectivity in food processing plants increases the risk of cyber-attacks. Manufacturing systems, such as industrial control systems (ICS) and supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, are now linked to information technology (IT) networks, giving more targets for hackers. Cybersecurity technologies aim to safeguard these systems from unauthorized access, data breaches, and disruptions in operations. Measures like installing firewalls, using intrusion detection systems, implementing network segmentation, and providing comprehensive employee training on cybersecurity best practices can help reduce these cyber risks.

The Use of Advanced Analytics

Using advanced analytics to tap into data offers manufacturers real-time insights into their plant floor operations making better informed decisions to enhance operations. Data analytics also serves as a reservoir for long-term strategic decision-making, allowing manufacturers to address issues before they cause disruptions proactively, streamline their plant flow, and boost productivity.

Data from diverse sources like sensors and integrated equipment provides crucial insights into production performance, quality control, and supply chain management. By analyzing this data, plant operators can pinpoint bottlenecks, optimize resource allocation, and cut costs by reducing waste. Predictive analytics aids in anticipating equipment failures and mitigating unplanned downtime through timely maintenance. Embracing data analytics empowers manufacturers to optimize operations and respond swiftly to market demands.

MES/ERP Integration

Connecting manufacturing execution systems (MES) with enterprise resource planning (ERP) software is becoming more popular in the manufacturing industry. This integration facilitates smooth communication between a business or IT network and an operational technology (OT) network. The blend of these systems provides valuable insights into supply chain challenges, improves inventory management, and aligns production with customer demand. MES/ERP integration offers functional analyses, empowering operators to make more informed decisions.

MES focuses on real-time control and monitoring of plant floor activities, like recipe management and quality control. In contrast, ERP systems oversee broader business processes, including finance, procurement, and customer relationship management. Integrating MES with ERP enables seamless data exchange, eliminating manual entry, reducing errors, and ensuring data consistency.

Using Robotics to Combat Workforce Shortages

The shortage of skilled workers is a big challenge in many industries. As experienced workers retire from manufacturing positions, there's a knowledge gap that poses issues for plant owners and operators. This labor transition can lead to more downtime, difficulties in diagnosing problems, increased problem-solving time, and a lack of understanding about how everything should work.

To tackle this, automation is handy by handling repetitive and physically demanding tasks, freeing workers to focus on more complex, skilled activities. Robotic systems are now doing jobs like packaging, palletizing, and assembly, reducing the need for manual labor and boosting operational efficiency.

Collaborative robots, or cobots, work alongside humans, improving productivity and safety. They handle precise and consistent tasks like ingredient mixing and quality inspection. Integrating cobots into production lines can enhance throughput, reduce errors, and improve worker safety.

Automation also addresses the challenge of ensuring consistent product quality. Automated quality control systems help minimize variations, detect defects, and enhance product consistency. These systems use machine vision and AI algorithms to analyze product attributes like color, shape, and size, ensuring adherence to strict quality standards.

Working with a systems integrator can help companies tap into the potential of data and devices, implementing these technologies effectively. Operators embracing these advancements gain a competitive edge, improve their product offerings, and find it easier to meet evolving consumer demands.

This blog was originally published on Control Engineering.