Competing in the industry as a manufacturer isn’t just about controlling costs. It’s about building an agile company that can deliver exactly what the market demands—today and tomorrow. Yet as product lifecycles get shorter every day, it doesn’t make things any easier in a mass production environment. So meeting customer needs today now requires you to not only keep operations efficient but also flexible—So you can respond quickly to each specific customer order and scale to the ever-demanding needs of the operations and manufacturing teams.  

Manufactures have been faced with a dilemma. A dilemma they only deal with when orders are not shipping.  For instance there is the minimum equipment needed to make the product which has a known but more often an unknown maximum yield. The schedule is based on the time it takes to make product which is equal to or less than the maximum yield of the machine.  When the yield falls below the schedule the unit profit is then lost and may be unrecoverable.  What makes this more difficult is that production lines are built for long runs of a given product.  These productions lines are not easily changed to build a different product. 

This inability to change easily creates a financial boundary for many manufactures.  They won’t even attempt low volume production thus keeping some products off the market entirely or the manufacturing is moved offshore to a location with a low labor rate for manual manufacture.   

Manufactures have long wanted to be able to accurately measure yield.  Improve yield and you improve profits.  This assumes the schedule to meet orders approaches 100%.  If the orders for a given product falls can the line be easily reconfigured for another product? 

One of the systems that may also need to be reconfigured is the network.  Cisco has been working to make network changes easy, even automated.  Therefore, it was fortunate to come across the folks at the Commonwealth Center for Advanced Manufacturing (C-CAM) near Richmond Virginia.  They have just received a grant from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) to research the viability of the flexible manufacturing cell.  The purpose is to develop a profitable easily reconfigurable production cell for short and varied production runs. 

To get the data from the production equipment will require a well-connected network.  So that well-connected network can and should include data collection via embedded edge computing.  Security for both in-plant and remote access to the data.   We believe that C-CAM is onto something that can revolutionize manufacturing in the U.S., and Cisco is proud to be participating with NIST and C-CAM in this endeavor. 


Dave Cronberger

Infrastructure Architect