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What is Smart Manufacturing?

Smart Manufacturing leverages amazing new technologies to elevate our human workforce and deliver impact on the factory floor - and beyond.

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What is smart manufacturing?

In the simplest terms, smart manufacturing describes using new technology to improve our processes and procedures on and off the factory floor. It’s a broad description of an industry change that leverages computerization, the infinite adaptability of AI, IT and data analytics, and powerful adaptive training techniques in order to simultaneously increase productivity, reduce errors, and empower the ever-essential human workforce. 

Experts typically describe the fundamental components of smart manufacturing as follows:

  • Data.
  • Robotics.
  • 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing.
  • More effective frontline support and training.


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Smart manufacturing elevates the human workforce with incredible technological advances.


Why smart manufacturing?



Modern smart manufacturing plays a pivotal role in enhancing resilience in today's manufacturing and production industries. By harnessing the power of automation, artificial intelligence, and data analytics, companies all around the world are achieving greater agility, adaptability, and responsiveness. 

This newfound resilience also plays a pivotal role in helping manage disruptions, and ensuring that operations run smoothly even in unexpected circumstances - like supply chain disruptions, market fluctuations, or a global catastrophe like the recent COVID-19 pandemic.


One of the most powerful advantages of smart manufacturing is the ability to optimize production and supply chain processes through real-time monitoring and predictive analytics. By collecting and analyzing vast amounts of data from interconnected systems, manufacturers gain valuable insights into their operations, enabling them to identify bottlenecks, optimize efficiency, and make data-driven decisions to minimize downtime and improve overall productivity and product quality. 

This proactive approach not only boosts operational resilience but also enables manufacturers to quickly adapt their production strategies, shift priorities, and meet changing customer demands with minimal disruption. Ultimately, modern smart manufacturing empowers companies to stay competitive and thrive in today's dynamic manufacturing industry.

The future factory.

Optimized smart manufacturing is a package deal. It’s not just about data, about robotics, about 3D printing - it’s about combining these elements to work seamlessly together and elevate our operations into something new and incredibly powerful. 

As the technical and physical elements of the manufacturing advance - leadership, training, and people management will also need to leverage the power of technology to keep pace. It’s equally essential to invest in data-driven management, reskilling, digital leadership, and a tech-augmented workforce in order to harvest the full benefits of smart manufacturing.

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Keeping pace with the modern world.

The modern manufacturing industry stands at a critical juncture where embracing new technologies is no longer an option but a necessity. Traditional manufacturing methods, while effective in their time, are no longer sufficient to meet the demands of today's rapidly evolving marketplace. Smart manufacturing, driven by advancements in automation, artificial intelligence, and the Internet of Things, presents a transformative opportunity to unlock unprecedented levels of productivity, efficiency, and innovation.


internet of things

A SwipeGuide user scans a QR code and gets his work instructions on a smartphone.


By harnessing the power of automation, tasks that were once manual and time-consuming can now be streamlined, freeing up valuable resources and enhancing productivity. Additionally, the adoption of smart manufacturing allows for improved quality control, reducing errors and minimizing product defects. 

This change must also come with the recognition that many of the tools of the 20th century will need to be phased out, strategies reimagined, and workforces retrained in order to embrace the benefits of smart manufacturing.

Take, for example, knowledge management for the frontline. For decades, we distributed essential process knowledge via paper and PDF work instructions and standards. These are a great example of the rigidity and inefficiency endemic to so many old-fashioned manufacturing tools. Hard to use, hard to update, and almost impossible to harness for meaningful analytics - moving to a digital tool opens the door for both ease of use and a shift towards truly democratized knowledge.

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The power of better data.

We’re able to generate insights about the performance of our people, our processes, and our equipment like never before. Over the last 15 years, the advances in advanced data management and visualization have grown remarkably. 

Not only does the power of data help improve work on the frontline - it helps modern manufacturers future-proof their operations and ensure success for years to come.

Data and analytics play a pivotal role in modern smart manufacturing, revolutionizing how businesses optimize their production processes. By harnessing the power of data, manufacturers gain valuable insights into every aspect of their operations, enabling them to make data-driven decisions and drive continuous improvement. 


Data about standard operating procedures and work instructions gives leaders an opportunity to predict problems before they occur.


From real-time monitoring of equipment performance to predictive maintenance and quality control - better data and analytics empower manufacturers to detect inefficiencies, minimize downtime, and ensure optimal productivity. By turning raw data into actionable intelligence, manufacturers can unlock hidden patterns, identify areas for optimization, and stay ahead in the competitive landscape of the industry.

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Machinery and devices.

Smart devices.

Mobile and wearable devices are pivotal components in the landscape of smart manufacturing. 

These are powerful tools that deliver seamless access to knowledge. By embracing mobile and wearable technologies, companies can revolutionize their operations and create an environment where information flows effortlessly. This means: enhanced decision-making, optimized workflows, and continuous improvement loops.

Hands-free and mobile devices also help empower your frontline teams to work safely and more efficiently. Imagine a scenario where an employee on your production floor can effortlessly retrieve crucial operational knowledge - via digital work instructions and SOPs - directly from their mobile device or smartglasses, without the need to search through manuals or consult supervisors. Wearable devices like smart glasses and smart gloves, also offer seamless real-time access to standards, work instructions, and safety information.


_CAP4293-1A SwipeGuide user on the shop floor with a tablet and a set of Smart glasses.


Smarter devices complement the smart manufacturing ecosystem by acting as versatile hubs for knowledge exchange, connecting frontline teams with vast repositories of knowledge and providing a link with manufacturing software. These devices enable employees to tap into the collective intelligence of the organization, fostering a culture of continuous learning and improvement.


Advanced robotics.

In modern smart manufacturing, the integration of robotics has revolutionized the way that production processes are carried out. These intelligent machines, equipped with advanced sensors and programming, are designed to perform repetitive tasks with precision and efficiency. From work in assembly lines to warehouse operations, they’ve become a game-changer in optimizing productivity and ensuring consistent quality.

These robots can be programmed to perform intricate assembly tasks, such as soldering components or handling small parts, with unmatched accuracy and speed. By taking over these repetitive tasks, robots free up human workers to focus on more value-added activities that require creativity and problem-solving skills.


robotics in manufacturing

Robots on the production floor can safely execute tasks that are too strenuous or dangerous for their human counterparts.

The widespread integration of robotics in smart manufacturing also brings about enhanced safety measures. With built-in sensors and advanced algorithms, robots can navigate their surroundings, detect obstacles, and adjust their movements accordingly. This ensures a safer working environment for both humans and machines, reducing the risk of accidents and injuries. By automating hazardous or physically demanding tasks, robotics contributes to improving worker well-being and overall operational efficiency.

These intelligent machines offer unparalleled precision, efficiency, and safety, allowing companies to streamline their production processes and achieve higher levels of productivity. As technology continues to advance, we can expect even more sophisticated robotics solutions to shape the future of manufacturing, making it more efficient, reliable, and adaptable.

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3D printing and additive manufacturing.

Additive Manufacturing refers to the process of leveraging 3D printing applications in manufacturing operations. From rapid prototyping to on-demand production, 3D printing enables the creation of complex geometries and customized parts on a rapid timescale. This flexibility and ease of creation allows manufacturers to enjoy the benefits of faster product development cycles, reduced costs, and flexibility to explore greater innovation.


additive manufacturing

3D printing technology has moved from a niche application to an industrial game-changer.

The adaptability and dynamism of 3D printing is revolutionary in an industry where global demand and the pace of production is rapidly increasing. It empowers manufacturers to respond swiftly to changing market demands and customer preferences. 

With traditional manufacturing methods, retooling or reconfiguring production lines for new products can be time-consuming and expensive. But with 3D printing, manufacturers can easily switch between different designs and materials, making it ideal for low-volume, high-variety production scenarios. Additionally, the ability to create intricate structures and lightweight components brings opportunities for optimizing material usage, reducing waste, and improving overall sustainability in manufacturing processes.

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It’s still about people in smart manufacturing.

Smart manufacturing is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry by augmenting human workers  - and the requisite systems responsible for their productivity, training, and reskilling. Supported by new technologies, humans on the factory floor and beyond can look forward to to elevated efficiency, productivity, and safety.

It could seem initially that a case for smart manufacturing is a case against the human worker - doesn’t smarter technology and robotic labor put human jobs at risk?

The short answer is definitively: no. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Smart manufacturing is not about replacing humans with machines; it's about empowering them with advanced technologies to amplify their skills and capabilities. By automating repetitive and mundane tasks, smart manufacturing empowers human workers to focus on higher-value activities that require creativity, problem-solving, and critical thinking.


Smart MFG Pillar Page (1)A SwipeGuide user checks her work instructions with a wearable device.

Through real-time data analytics, smart manufacturing provides workers with actionable insights and predictive intelligence, enabling them to make informed decisions quickly. This streamlined access to information optimizes workflow and eliminates bottlenecks, resulting in enhanced productivity and streamlined operations.

Moreover, smart manufacturing fosters a collaborative environment where humans and machines work synergistically, leveraging each other's strengths.This partnership also opens the door for crowdsourced knowledge and the ability to capture and democratize procedures with the click of a button - not just at one location but throughout a global value chain.

The ability to effortlessly distribute standards throughout a value chain is also a huge boon to the compliance aspect of manufacturing - something that’s essential, given the consequences of poor product quality or failing to pass a routine audit. Compliance standards and machine data that’s stored digitally in the cloud is accessible wherever, whenever, and can be used to monitor task execution in real time. Leaders can get accurate data on how their teams are performing while strategizing improvements to processes where and when they’re needed.

By embracing smart manufacturing technologies, manufacturers empower their frontline and deskless workforce to become more agile, adaptive, and innovative, ensuring they remain at the forefront of industry advancements. Smart manufacturing amplifies human abilities, creating a future where humans and technology coexist harmoniously, driving unprecedented levels of efficiency and productivity.

Example: Reimagining standard work.

When a frontline worker begins her work at a production line, it’s imperative that she has a crystal clear outline of where to go and what to do. Not only will this make her day-to-day job easier, but she’ll be less prone to errors while she carries out the task.

Team leaders often communicate and standardize this information by outlining standard work at the shift level.

This means that supervisors create workflows and describe the day’s work as it relates to: 

The particular shift. What processes and procedures need to be accomplished to meet the day’s production goals?

Machine operating status. What tasks, like cleaning and maintenance, need to be performed during the shift to ensure production is met efficiently and according to standard. 


manufacturing workflows

In the past, this information was often delivered via a physical task list or board. This requires individual employees to take responsibility for knowing where and what to do during a shift, and which materials they need. This is a time consuming process that leaves a lot of room for error.

Digital platforms remove the guesswork from the start of a shift. They allow supervisors to explicitly link daily tasks to digital, step-by-step work instructions, delivered instantly to mobile devices. This means:

  • Less guesswork.
  • Fewer human errors.
  • Reduced time to effectiveness for frontline workers.
  • Fewer product defects.
  • A better experience for human workers.

And this is just one example of how a typical manufacturing workflow can be elevated by technology within the broader context of smart manufacturing. There are dozens more - each bringing distinct benefits.

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