Propelling Transformation with Smart Products

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Propelling Transformation with Smart Products

In today’s industry, smart products are the key to unlocking heightened manufacturing performance. They are often a company’s first step down the road of digital transformation. Even by adding just a few smart products to the manufacturing line, companies see tremendous growth in efficiency, productivity, and safety within days, prompting them to add more and more as they progress down their path of digital transformation. 

A smart product (sometimes referred to as a cyber physical system) is a physical device that connects to a network so it can share data on itself, its environment, and its users. Smart product use cases in the manufacturing sector are almost endless, but there remain a few common applications across the industry: fabricators controlled by artificial intelligence, temperature sensors that connect to the cloud, and RFID tags that track parts and inventory all over the manufacturing floor. 

A safe place for a manufacturer to start in their digital transformation is to attach smart sensors to equipment and machines. From temperature and pressure to vibration and acoustic, sensors will collect health data from the physical equipment while using cloud software to analyze for issues. Smart sensors provide consistent, quality data at a much more efficient rate than manual inspections. 

Take Toyota for example. The company deploys various sensors along its manufacturing line so that it can predict when a machine will fail before it is too late to reverse the consequences. This initiative was successful in cutting up to 50% of Toyota’s unplanned downtime, thus a significant improvement to its maintenance performance. 

Advancing digital transformation a step further, smart products can be added, in addition to the smart sensors, to improve the effectiveness of training programs. The market for wearable technologies is on the rise in the industrial sector. Smart glasses will display an augmented reality to employees for a more unique and effective training program. 

For example, General Motors experimented with smart glasses that use augmented reality to guide employees while completing training tasks. The glasses show the employees correct techniques as they are doing certain activities, such as st strip molding. The technology offers a much more hands on and effective approach to training on new tasks. 

Further down the digital transformation path, companies can start to think about full on robotic automation. It involves deploying robots to complete certain tasks, typically the repetitive and labour intensive ones, at a much higher efficiency and productivity. Robots these days often connect to the internet in order to transmit valuable data on their performance and output, thus making them a highly advanced version of a smart product. 

Tesla’s Fremont, California manufacturing plant is an excellent example of a facility that operates hundreds of robots to automate the majority of its car production. Although the robotic setup got off to a shaky start given this feat had never been attempted in car manufacturing Tesla was able to optimize the operation to build 91,000 cars in just the last quarter of 2018, a significant performance improvement from its initial output of a couple hundred per week. 

Smart products are a driving force behind innovation in manufacturing. By nature, they improve performance in all kinds of areas and allow a company the option to continue to deploy new ones as their digital transformation progresses.