Industry Market Trends

The Lowdown on High-Tech Pt. 1

Apr 11, 2013

In the first part of a multi-part series, Tim Shinbara, technical director at the Association for Manufacturing Technology (AMT), explains how manufacturing is being integrated into the "industrial Internet" and benefiting from advanced technologies.

One of my responsibilities at AMT is to track advanced and emerging manufacturing technologies and help our member firms make better informed technology decisions. Those decisions may range from capital expenditure to technology insertion and acceptance. But these insights and technical clarity can also be useful to a broader audience and further increase advanced manufacturing awareness.

The last International Manufacturing Technology Show, at McCormick Place in Chicago, highlighted digital convergence as a significant trend entering the mainstream of industrial manufacturing. Manufacturing technologies have either been enabled by or are enabling the digital world. GE recently referred to this phenomenon as the "industrial Internet."

Industrial Internet Data Loop. Credit: GE Industrial Internet Data Loop. Credit: GE

Manufacturing technologies are participating in this digital world in three key areas: Model-based enterprise (MBE); manufacturing; and management. Let's look at how and why each of these areas pertains to manufacturing.

MBE: Traditionally, the digital side of design and analysis focused on the 3-D computer-aided design (CAD) model and any subsequent simulation (e.g. finite element modeling) to initially validate model design, materials, and processes selected. While this is still a work in progress, there has been further inclusion within this step for manufacturing. Model-based enterprise (MBE) is a term that describes a macro cradle-to-cradle (including repurposing and reusing phases of a product's lifecycle) strategy for leveraging the digital tapestry, which encompasses the requirements for an industrial Internet. In addition to CAD, computer-aided manufacturing (CAM) files, quality assurance requirements or reports, and lifecycle data accompany a manufactured part throughout its life.

Manufacturing: During the manufacturing process, there are myriad opportunities to capture real-time data. Such data may improve subsequent processing parameters to optimize for quality or perform in situ corrections that use all current material and equipment time for a "first-part correct" scenario for any given material, geometry, or process. The fundamental benefits of capturing real-time manufacturing data are two-fold: 1) Reducing waste (material, energy, and scrap); and 2) Validating models. Cutting waste provides an obvious cost advantage, while validation of a model is critical to evolve from the costly empirical process of testing coupons toward virtual simulation for validation. For MBE to be fully utilized, the digital thread must continue from design into the manufacturing process. This is best enabled by digitizing the processing steps within manufacturing. Open protocols like MTConnect provide such capabilities to current and emerging equipment types.

Management: Once the technical challenge of obtaining real-time manufacturing data is overcome, there is the problem of collecting, compiling, and reducing data to produce information useful in decision making. Some of these decisions are shop floor optimization elements for overall equipment effectiveness, load balancing, and technology health monitoring. More interesting, though, has been the increased value realized when one can provide pure manufacturing data to interface with and drive enterprise resource planning metrics. Now the data is digital, actual, and mobile, which opens up an entirely new realm of managing production operations.

This level of visibility in the manufacturing process begins to define a "system of systems." Effectively executing this macro concept truly enables next-generation manufacturing. There are advanced and emerging technologies that individually enhance features and quality, time-to-market, or cost-competitive solutions. However, none by themselves take manufacturing to another level like a well-conducted concert of assets directed by production management. Maybe this is what digital convergence into an industrial Internet looks like: the tool that places the baton in the maestro's hand!


MORE: Shinbara breaks down additive manufacturing


Tim Shinbara is the technical director of AMT - The Association For Manufacturing Technology. Based in McLean, Va., AMT represents and promotes U.S.-based manufacturing technology and its members - those who design, build, sell, and service the continuously evolving technology that lies at the heart of manufacturing. For more, visit AMT's website at