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Conor McCarthy

Director, CONFIRM Centre for SMART Manufacturing Research

Smart manufacturing helps companies make better decisions regarding their products and processes, and so strengthens their economic, societal and environmental resilience.

The factories of the future will look completely different to the factories of today, says Conor McCarthy, Director of CONFIRM, a smart manufacturing research centre at the University of Limerick. This is all thanks to digital transformation.

Data opens up possibilities

Digital innovations such as sensor technology, the Internet of Things (IoT), enterprise modelling and simulation and data analytics are making the entire end-to-end production process more data driven. Better data opens up a world of possibility.

Smart manufacturing allows companies to make better decisions based on digital data from sensors on the production line and in the supply chain,” explains McCarthy.

“Advances like virtual reality enable workers to control machines from remote locations, making rigid manufacturing lines more modular and flexible. This means factories will become more distributed, increasing customisation, and reducing the length of supply chains. That’s important as supply chains have come under immense pressure in recent years due to events such as the global pandemic and Brexit.” Digitalisation also makes it easier to monitor supply chains more efficiently and helps companies understand what products are popular with end users.

Smart manufacturing allows companies to make better decisions based on digital data.

Growing smart manufacturing capabilities

CONFIRM is involved in smart manufacturing projects across many sectors, and works closely with different stakeholders including multinationals, SMEs, institutes, and technology users and developers.

“Smart manufacturing is not omnipresent at the moment,” admits McCarthy. “Cost of entry into Industry 4.0 digital technology (which supports interconnectivity, automation, machine learning and real-time data) can be high for SMEs, for example. But interest is growing in certain spheres and we’re seeing companies investing a lot of energy and resources into developing smart manufacturing capabilities.”

Building economic resilience

McCarthy believes that smart manufacturing will help the factories of the future strengthen their economic resilience, because it will enable goods to be produced more quickly, efficiently and cheaply. Smart manufacturing will also support societal resilience by giving workers more adaptability and flexibility.

“Plus it will strengthen environmental resilience,” says McCarthy. “Digital technology can make the production line more energy efficient. Because products can be tracked, it’s easier to assess their reusable assets and suitability for remanufacturing and upcycling when they reach end of life. This is key because companies in every industry are committed to reducing their carbon emissions or reach net zero goals. Smart manufacturing has an important role to play from a sustainability standpoint in the years ahead.”

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