Kirill Kedrinski - Fotolia

How is advanced manufacturing defined in terms of manufacturing today?

In a technology landscape marked by exponential changes, pinning down the term 'advanced manufacturing' can be tricky. Here's a nuanced definition that will help.

It should come as no surprise that anything considered to be "advanced" today is likely to become common practice and not advanced at all in the near future, especially in a technology-driven sector, such as manufacturing. Therefore, any definition of advanced manufacturing will be a temporary one; soon to be outdated.

That said, you can define advanced manufacturing as any process, equipment, approach or technology that brings enhanced capabilities to manufacturing. The perception of what is "advanced" may vary by industry. In the automotive industry, the use of robots is common, and is considered to be standard practice, whereas robots might be considered advanced technology in a foundry, for example.

More generally, advanced manufacturing in the area of plant equipment and processes would include such things as 3D printing and newer automation initiatives and exotic processes that are not common practice in that particular industry. The key point is that the industry is employing leading-edge science and technology to improve manufacturing in some way -- to reduce costs, increase speed or throughput, make more sophisticated products, make manufacturing more agile (smaller economic production quantities and faster changeover from one product to another), make more environmentally friendly processes or products, or produce better products.

Digital manufacturing is a major focus of advanced manufacturing today. Digital manufacturing is the extensive use of sensors and controls, along with digital design and engineering using computer-aided design/computer-aided manufacturing and lifecycle management software, to digitize the entire product cycle from conception and design through manufacturing and distribution, and then on to use, support and, ultimately, disposal. Much of digital manufacturing takes place in the cloud, but cloud computing itself should not be considered advanced manufacturing.

On the management software side, most manufacturers would consider the more sophisticated planning applications to be "advanced," including sales and operations planning, inventory optimization and any form of finite planning and scheduling (many of which actually use the word "advanced" in the application name, e.g., advanced planning and optimization). Any software that encompasses the Industrial internet of things, big data and analytics can also be considered advanced and on the leading edge of information management for manufacturing.

Some organizations include sophisticated quality controls, lean manufacturing or supply chain integration in the characteristics of advanced manufacturing.

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