The “4S” Strategy for Smart Manufacturers

While walking among the redwoods of California on a hiking trip, I could feel the solemnity of the space. John Steinbeck wrote: “The redwoods, once seen, leave a mark or create a vision that stays with you always.”

Manufacturing leaves a legacy too. We’ve been making things with our hands for thousands of years. Manufacturing has a vision, as Steinbeck says about the redwoods, that stays with you. This is how I see the crossroad of tech and humanity in all things, particularly for smart manufacturers. Manufacturing makes life better.

We are now, however, at a crossroad where we get to decide what “better” looks like. I was thinking about this on my hike, and there are more questions than answers to this loaded question.

With the severe supply chain disruption, reshoring is an obvious solution – but how will smart manufacturing be adopted? What cost to the environment must we pay to produce products? What new security risks surface to access data? And how will we solve the endemic supply chain problems and labor shortages?

The Move to Smart Manufacturing

I’ve always believed in dismantling big problems and, without a doubt, smart manufacturing is not a straight line.

According to the 2020 Gartner Smart Manufacturing Strategy and Implementation Trends Survey, less than 50% of manufacturing leaders are implementing or have a fully deployed smart manufacturing strategy. It’s not that they don’t think it’s important. The survey showed that “86% agree that smart manufacturing is an integral component of their digital supply chain strategy.” Almost the same percentage of people also expect smart manufacturing to increase their competitiveness.

A 4S Strategy for the Future of Manufacturing

In thinking about this, I broke it down into what I call a 4S Strategy: smart manufacturing, sustainability, security and supply chain. Each plays a critical role.

  1. Smart Manufacturing
  2. Going back to the Gartner report on what makes a successful smart manufacturing strategy, it’s interesting to note that leadership buy-in is already in place. Rather, what stands in the way is organisational complexity, and integration and process reengineering. Translation: change management.

    So, how close are we to truly smart manufacturing on a real factory floor? AT&T Business gives us some answers. In the spring of 2021 (how time has flown!), I had the privilege of visiting AT&T’s smart factory exhibit at MxD. AT&T is providing deployable, measurable and meaningful solutions to digitizing factories. In other words, the company is making great strides to make change achievable!

    At that time of my visit, we were talking about AT&T MEC, an on-premise edge solution, and 5G as key components in manufacturing processes. They pointed out, for example, that IoT video intelligence applies AI and machine learning to video footage to monitor, automate, and perform functions that help businesses drive efficiencies on a near-real time basis using their AT&T 5GmmWave solution.

    There was much more we talked about that ups the game in production accuracy, safety monitoring and inventory tracking. However, it is interesting that a year later, so much progress has been made in the evolution of the smart factory via assembly, discrete and process manufacturing testbeds.

  3. Sustainability
  4. Greenhouse gas emissions continue to climb across all sectors. Right now, they are at the highest point in history – with a large majority of it in transport and industry. The latter accounts for a quarter of global emissions. The goal is to cut emissions in half by 2030 and by as much as 70% by 2050.

    The 2022 Sixth Assessment Report released by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates we have no time to waste. Rising temperatures will continue to provoke floods, droughts, wildfires and food shortages. We’re seeing these environmental consequences happen now.

    Smart manufacturers see the big picture, making sustainable goals part of their innovation approach. This might mean forming green committees internally, drafting (and working toward) sustainability statements, researching what others are doing in the industry and, most of all, holding themselves accountable to gaining traction.

  5. Security
  6. Smart manufacturing has a built-in risk: security. But this doesn’t have to be a negative. According to AT&T, smart and secure go hand in hand. What we’re seeing here is the marriage of information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT).

    Employing Zero Trust is the right way to go. Basically, this means to “never trust, always verify,” providing a gatekeeper at every layer of security, according to authors Bindu Sundaresan, Director, AT&T Cybersecurity and Jush Danielson, GM Marketing, AT&T Retail, Manufacturing & Global Accounts.

    They make a salient point: “Whether deploying Zero Trust as part of a digital transformation initiative or to protect an increasingly distributed network and workforce, this framework allows manufacturers to recognize supply chain failings across the creation, manufacturing, testing and delivery of products, without ceasing or interrupting operations.”

  7. Supply Chain
  8. Supply chain disruption, alongside the labor shortage,are leading tech challenges keeping manufacturers up at night right now.

    Here, data plays a big role in solving problems. When you can see in real-time the status of a supply chain partner in your production, you are in the power position. Instead of waiting for a shipment that is not on its way or picking up the phone to call in an order to a supplier, data access and transparency can save hours and alert you to problems in advance.

    This is end-to-end IoT, providing predictive analytics to make more informed decisions. For a quick glance at this, check out AT&T’s great resources about the factory of the future.

    On this point of supply chain, I would also like to expand our language. The term itself hails from 1905 when it was first used in an article for the newspaper “The Independent.” Gartner has coined yet another term, one which makes more sense in today’s world where a collaborative culture is key. Gartner reveals that, by 2024, “75% of the top 20 global consumer goods companies will engage in an ecosystem partnership contributing to growth and sustainability goals.” This will be a key growth driver in both mature and developing markets.

S Is for Success
Successful smart manufacturing strategies require corporate leaders recognizing both the benefits and challenges of the 4S pillars. Short-run wins will erode long-term success. Taking no action is even worse.

As you embrace summer, consider the 4S Strategy for your manufacturing endeavors. Any one of these approaches – smart manufacturing, sustainability, security and supply chain – is good. Stacked together, however, they become a competitive advantage positioning you for the winner’s position. Winning takes on many forms. It might mean a healthier bottom line just as much as making sure the redwoods are still around a century from now.

This post was sponsored by AT&T Business, but the opinions are my own and don’t necessarily represent AT&T Business’s positions or strategies.

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