Research shows the importance and value of using data to improve nearly every operational aspect such as product quality, worker and workplace safety, energy efficiency and environmental compliance, all while reducing cost. This is where Smart Manufacturing comes into play. Thanks to technological innovations that have fueled the growth of Smart Manufacturing acceptance, such achievements have become reality—something that was anything but the norm less than 20 years ago.

Today, advances in technology have produced an extremely sophisticated global marketplace that has forced businesses to radically alter their work processes to successfully compete. Technology can also be attributed to the rise of the start-up businesses that pose a major competitive threat to their larger counterparts because of their concentrated focus on innovation and rapid product development. These new arrivals pride themselves on maintaining a previously unheard of time frame from design to marketplace—as little as six months. Larger, established firms that compete with start-ups generally take as long as 18 months for the same process—an amount of time that threatens to relegate their “new” product to instant obsolescence. Their methodology has put them at a competitive disadvantage, which is unacceptable in a global business environment.

The technology to sort out and leverage the data is certainly available, but many companies choose to focus on the micro (a specific issue or product) instead of the macro (the integrated data process that relates to the entire organization) approach. In some cases, they may possess the technology, but choose to limit its use because they mistakenly focus only on what they presume to be relevant data. That decision ignores the potential impact of other data in the company’s possession. Certainly, Big Data needs to be understood at a molecular level for effective analysis, but when technology to analyze it is either not clearly understood or, worst-case, ignored, the company has failed to take advantage of a potential competitive edge waiting to be leveraged.

The value of Smart Manufacturing Technology, which some refer to as “Industry 4.0,” is its very specific goal: innovation. It integrates data and applies it to every aspect of operations including strategic planning, expedited production, economic growth, and environmental compliance to name a few.