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Smart Manufacturing is a smart choice no matter who you are or what you’re manufacturing. But, if you’re running a High Mix/Low Volume operation and competing with products produced in so called “low cost” countries it’s not only smart, it’s almost essential to your survival.

So, why am I having to point this out when the big boys who probably are your customers have been embracing smart manufacturing for a couple of decades now? And why isn’t every company in the High Mix/Low Volume arena already taking advantage of this well-proven technology.

Those are both good questions and I’m going to focus the answers on smart manufacturing systems based on smart servo press technology for a couple of reasons. First, because my company pioneered that technology and I’ve spent virtually my whole career developing and implementing it -- so I know a lot about it. And, second, because that technology is an excellent analog for all of the other smart devices and systems out there today.

In the high volume sector and particularly in transportation, the use of smart servo presses has been growing steadily for more than 20 years because they improve quality and productivity. Smart systems deliver precise control, low maintenance, high uptime, lower energy costs and consistent quality. They also provide extremely valuable post-process data that can be used to track, analyze and improve the processes they’re performing.

All of these benefits are available in the High Mix/Low Volume arena along with the ability to shorten process development and changeover times that are even more critical in that environment. But, until recently those benefits have come with a cost that has tended to limit the adoption of smart systems outside the high volume transportation sector.

The key issue is technical support. An automaker has access to full departments dedicated to mechanical, electrical and controls engineering. A smaller manufacturer in the High Mix/Low Volume sector is more likely to have a few individuals skilled in hydraulic and pneumatic systems and not much else.

The bottom line is that new technologies tend to be complex when they are introduced because the innovators are pushing the limits and are tightly focused on just making their ideas work. Ease of use, ease of integration and simplicity are not part of the program at that point.

That all comes later, and that’s where the servo press technology is today. The next generational jump is harnessing today’s computer processing power and process knowledge to build systems that are as easy to set up and manage as a new monitor or printer for a home office. It’s well underway and ready to go to work for smaller, non-automotive manufacturers who have to compete in the global market.

The only realistic way to survive in that market is to leverage technology to become more productive and smart devices are the key to making that happen. They can make your processes more reliable, predictable and efficient and they don’t need an entire department staffed with trained engineers to be utilized effectively.

Smart system also deliver another advantage, albeit an intangible one. When customers see that you are using better technology to produce the parts they’re buying, it creates a positive perception and gives you an advantage over your competitors, particularly those selling on the basis of production in “low cost” countries.

Let me offer a final thought. You’ve probably been told many times that trying to “keep up with the Joneses” is a bad idea and in your personal life it really is good advice. But in High Mix/Low Volume manufacturing environment it simply means you’re part of the pack and that isn’t good enough today. Today you need to be the Joneses -- out front and pulling away powered by the best smart technology you can get.