Smart Manufacturing: Bridging the Digital Divide

By Brian Papke, President, Mazak Corporation

Since the 80s, our industry has primarily focused on lean production strategies to help offset the higher cost of doing business in this country as compared with overseas. And, while finding ways to reduce operational waste is important, the lean approach can only take us so far in a world that will soon be driven by the interconnectivity of intelligent products, processes and services. 

Within the next decade, cyber-physical systems together with the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and cloud computing will generate unprecedented manufacturing intelligence that will transform the global competitive marketplace. Therefore, our industry needs to start preparing now for the market-altering leaps in productivity and efficiency that will come as a result of IIoT and the rise of the smart factory. If we don’t, our country’s economic well-being hangs in the balance. 

Throughout 2016, I anticipate an increased number of manufacturers putting IIoT theories into practice. To offer some perspective, the ARC Advisory Group recently surveyed 145 industrial-based companies to gauge their level of IIoT readiness. 

The survey data shows that 12% of the respondents are already using IIoT, 18% are investing in IIoT projects that are live or almost live, 27% are evaluating the potential of IIoT, 19% are monitoring IIoT developments but not active, and 17% do not have a clear understanding of IIoT or how it can help them. Overall, most of these companies seem to be advanced in their IIoT attitudes and approach, with only 7% of the respondents viewing IIoT as irrelevant.    

At Mazak, we’ve spent the past few years investing in our manufacturing infrastructure and implementing what we refer to as the Mazak iSMART Factory™ concept, which involves the complete digital integration of our Kentucky manufacturing operations. Through this dynamic, limitless concept, we’re able to derive real-time, actionable intelligence from the massive production data we generate on a daily basis. And, in doing so, we’ve been able to significantly improve our production efficiency and responsiveness to market/customer changes.  

As an early adopter of IIoT, we can use our proven Mazak iSMART Factory™ concept to serve as a springboard for customers interested in smart manufacturing strategies built around big data, embedded connectivity and advanced analytics. And it doesn’t matter how big or how small a shop is — every manufacturer stands to benefit from digital interconnectivity in one form or another. In fact, we see many of our customers using the MTConnect® communications standard, interconnected equipment and sensor-based devices to run their operations more efficiently and reduce production costs. 

Some manufacturers are slower to adopt IIoT because of the data security risks involved — and rightly so, as any device connected to the Internet creates an entry point for cybercriminals. Those who do not embrace IIoT and its efficiency-laden benefits, however, give their competition the ultimate competitive advantage, which could actually pose more of a business risk than a potential hacker.

I’ve noticed that several of the companies we work with either have an IIoT security strategy in place or are currently implementing one, especially as a growing number of their customers push for security audits and documentation. SEC regulators are also starting to ask manufacturers for proof of security threat mitigation. 

According to The Global State of Information Security® Survey 2016, businesses are investing in core safeguards to better defend their ecosystems against evolving threats. For example, 67% of survey respondents indicated they have an overall security strategy, while 50% actively monitor and analyze their security intelligence.  

From risk-based frameworks to cloud-enabled security to advanced authentication, there are several items to consider when it comes to protecting data from cybersecurity vulnerabilities. One easy, secure way to enter IIoT is through our new Mazak SmartBox platform, which we currently use in our Kentucky Mazak iSMART Factory™. Developed in conjunction with Cisco and MEMEX, Inc., this revolutionary end-to-end security platform represents a huge leap forward in data protection, with the means to progress alongside IIoT.

Whether you’re ready or not, we’re at the start of a technological revolution where smart products and the Internet are working together to completely change our industry in as little as 10 years. And with this transformation will come unconventional business growth, improved manufacturing flexibility, lower production costs and much, much more. But in order to capitalize on these benefits and remain a powerful player in the global economy, we as an industry and as a nation must take action by investing in smart manufacturing infrastructures.

About Mazak Corporation

Mazak Corporation is a leader in the design and manufacture of productive machine tool solutions. Committed to being a partner to customers with innovative technology, its world-class facility in Florence, Kentucky, produces over 100 models of turning centers, Multi-Tasking machines and vertical machining centers, including 5- axis models. Continuously investing in manufacturing technology allows the Kentucky Mazak iSMART Factory™ to be the most advanced and efficient in the industry, providing high-quality and reliable products through its “Production-On-Demand” practice. Mazak maintains eight Technology Centers across North America to provide local hands-on applications, service and sales support to customers. For more information on Mazak's products and solutions, visit or follow us on Twitter and Facebook.