With the need for increased visibility proving key to boosting productivity and gain competitive advantage, adopting smart digital technologies has become imperative for manufacturing firms, according to data and analytics company GlobalData.

Smart manufacturing – the automation of the manufacturing sector – includes the convergence of operational technology such as SCADA, industrial control systems and connected devices with information technology.

“The process employs computer controls, advanced analytics such as artificial intelligence (AI), Internet of things (IoT) and, fixed and wireless connectivity,” said GlobalData. “Broadly speaking, manufacturers are looking to bring in visibility across supply chain, customize the production process, automate certain processes for workplace safety and incorporate analytics to predict operations performance and forecast product demand to make informed production-related decisions.

Technology Analyst at GlobalData technology analyst Siow Meng So said the aim is to actually see manufacturing efficiencies, often through open infrastructure, and dramatically improve business agility. “The ideal end state is a fully-integrated, collaborative system responsive to customer needs, supply chain and market conditions. This should cover upstream suppliers, midstream suppliers and downstream suppliers.”

Manufacturers such as Bosch are equipping their OT with sensors and equipment to collect and transmit data and finally streamline production.

The study also found increasing demand for personalized goods is forcing manufacturers to collect and analyze large volumes of data to customize the production process, prevent costly downtime and forecast product demand to make more informed production-related decisions.

In addition, distributed manufacturers are accommodating customer expectations by sharing data among multiple manufacturing locations and using new industrial technologies such as computer numerical control machine and 3D printing.

Soh added that some manufacturers are even replacing human workers with machines to perform dangerous tasks or work in hazardous environments, and deploying robotics to simplify interaction with manufacturing systems.

“Factory automation will be a top investment priority to drive a sustainable competitive advantage,” he added. “Technologies such as augmented reality, AI, 3D printing and IoT are among the key technologies to change the manufacturing sector, but forklift upgrades are highly unlikely in this sector.”