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16 Tools for Smart Manufacturing

The move to an Industry 4.0 digital transformation has prompted a plethora of tools. Here’s a look at the different aspects of smart manufacturing.

Whether it’s IoT or augmented reality, additive manufacturing or open-source systems, the technology involved in next-generation manufacturing are widely varied. While this trend has been building for 25 years, it has gained steam in the past few years.

The move to digital tools is not just a matter of deploying a robot here and preventive maintenance there. Whole automation platforms are revamping into systems that read and direct operations. Call it a digital thread or digital twin, the manufacturing process is shifting to smart systems that are tied into ERP and the supply chain.

Adoption of Smart Manufacturing Is Easier

For many years this was the province of just the very largest manufacturers. In recent years, however, there has been a democratization of Industry 4.0 technology. Not only has it come down in price, it has also become easier to use. Much of the smart tools can be deployed using configuration rather than programming, thus relieving manufacturers of the need for costly integrators. Also, those producing smart manufacturing technology are turning more to open source systems. That increases compatibility.

The global pandemic hasn’t slowed the march toward digital transformation. Many manufacturers are deploying automation because of the pandemic. While it’s hard to get an accurate bead on adoption during COVID-19, recent studies have indicated that manufacturers are using technology to support work-at-home engineering and social distancing on the plant floor.

So, let’s take a look at the wide range of smart manufacturing tools that are proliferating in the manufacturing process.

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 19 years, 17 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cybersecurity. For 10 years, he was the owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

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