Working Smart

Vecna Family of Robots

Leaner, greener, faster, more intelligent, more data-driven, more automated, more cost effective…

Many terms describe smart manufacturing, and this list could be longer. Smart processes can produce plane parts, machine controls or the new pair of running shoes in your closet.

The manufacturing of today (and tomorrow) is about using the latest computerized and other technologies to automate and customize how products are made. Smart factories need workers skilled in IT, computers, mathematics, programming and more, who may check or adjust operations remotely with a few keystrokes on a laptop or smartphone.

And whether it’s called the Industrial Internet, Internet of Industrial Things, Industry 4.0 or the Factory of the Future, smart manufacturing is transforming companies and industries. ASTM committees are there too, developing needed standards and coordinating that work through its Smart Manufacturing Advisory Committee.


“Standards are very important, especially when we’re talking about new technologies,” says Scott Johnston, Ph.D., a research engineer at Boeing, co-chairman of SMAC and a member of ASTM Committee F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies.

SMAC provides the opportunity for stakeholders across diverse smart manufacturing technologies to discuss these innovations, related standards development and how ASTM can work with new partners in these areas. “SMAC is a more formal organization of collaboration across different technologies and committees,” Johnston says.

Right now, “We can’t compare tests one-to-one. Standards will help with that. And applying that to SMAC, if we can do that across all the different industries, we have a really powerful network of information that we can use,” says Johnston.

Sudarsan Rachuri, Ph.D., is an industrial engineer in the Information Modeling and Testing Group, Systems Integration Division, at the National Institute of Standards and Technology and also a SMAC member. He adds, “standards are spurring growth in smart manufacturing.” According to Rachuri, standards and innovation have a symbiotic and mutually beneficial relationship, and standards help drive innovation by codifying best practices, technological knowledge and experience. Standards also enable global competition, which in turn triggers new innovation.

Several ASTM committees are pursuing standards related to smart manufacturing: 3D printing, nanotechnology, pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical production, and more. SMAC brings together more than 20 representatives of several committees. Its members intend for the committee to become a thought leader in smart manufacturing technology development. Interested parties are welcome; please contact Pat Picariello, ASTM (tel +1.610.832.9720).

Collaborating for Advancement

SMAC meets virtually four times a year. At its most recent meeting, Daniel Theobald, co-founder and CTO of automation company Vecna, described the capabilities of today’s robots, such as mass customization in quantities of one. Theobald said, “The world is on a significant path to automation… Those companies that figure out how to have automation and put it to use will be successful.”

In addition to invited speakers, the meetings provide an opportunity for SMAC members to summarize their committee’s latest activities and completed standards. In addition, they explore collaboration with other industry and scientific groups.

A Sampling of “Smart” in ASTM

Several ASTM groups are developing standards for various aspects of smart manufacturing processes. ASTM’s open and bottom-up process means that stakeholders from emerging areas are welcome to approach ASTM about creating standards to advance their fields.

Here’s a sampling of what ASTM committees represented in SMAC are doing.

Standards for additive manufacturing, which builds plastic or metal parts layer by layer, come from F42 on Additive Manufacturing Technologies. F42 is responsible for standards such as specifications for metal alloys used in powder bed fusion, a guide for characterizing metal powder properties for AM processes, an AM file format and a practice for reporting data about AM specimens.

Aerospace engine parts such as nozzles and combustion chambers made through AM have potentially different flaws than conventionally manufactured parts; Committee E07 on Nondestructive Testing is working with F42 for standards in this area. “What we’re trying to accomplish is very multidisciplinary,” says Jess Waller, Ph.D., materials scientist at the NASA White Sands Test Facility. He notes that E07 is drafting state-of-the-art NDT procedures and coordinating round-robin testing of samples with flaw types unique to AM.

Whether they’re unmanned ground vehicles, mobile robots or driverless automatic guided industrial vehicles, computer-controlled devices are helping to change the face of manufacturing with their capabilities. They can move materials or equipment from one place to another or assemble parts. “Mobile manipulators (robot arms on robot bases) are a growing area for research and robot manufacturers and will transform assembly line and agile manufacturing — forms of traditional vehicle navigation and docking,” says Roger Bostelman, NIST researcher and chair of Committee F45 on Driverless Automatic Guided Industrial Vehicles. Manufacturers and users will be able to evaluate device docking and navigating ability when two proposed ASTM standards are completed.

Nanotechnology has meant stronger baseball bats, more wrinkle-resistant fabrics and durable vehicle coatings, as well as the potential to further disease treatment and more. ASTM’s Committee E56 on Nanotechnology is responsible for more than a dozen standards that characterize and analyze nanomaterials as well as advance workforce education in the industry. Smart manufacturing and nanotechnology are inextricably linked, says Alan Rawle, Ph.D., applications manager for Malvern Instruments, and an E56 member, “Components and assemblies are getting smaller, more complex, more technologically advanced; new directions and out-of-the-box thinking are requirements.” He adds that standards are vital for comparison and guidance.

Packaging enters the smart manufacturing mix by doing more than protecting products for shipping. Smart packaging can control temperature, monitor freshness and enable tracking, among other benefits. Standards from Committee D10 address the materials in a package as well as how well it performs.

For smarter pharmaceutical and biopharmaceutical manufacturing, single use systems offer a reduced risk of contamination for vaccines and drugs. Standards being developed by Committee E55 will support product safety. Practices will help evaluate equipment and system integrity during production, and more.

Standards from ASTM Committee E57 are driving the evolution of 3D imaging systems by supporting consistent and clear terminology and increasing user confidence in system performance. Already available are methods to evaluate the performance of larger volume 3D imaging systems (used for construction, aerospace and other products), and the performance of systems used to track objects in manufacturing facilities is a proposed standard.

Making manufacturing more sustainable means taking social, environmental and financial factors into account and being smart with respect to resources. These factors align with smart manufacturing by enabling more efficient processes, reducing energy consumption and more. ASTM Subcommittee E60.13 on Sustainable Manufacturing, part of Committee E60 on Sustainability, is developing standards to characterize sustainable manufacturing and classify manufacturing waste, among others. The first standard from E60.13 came out earlier this year: a soup-to-nuts approach for evaluating environmental aspects in manufacturing such as carbon dioxide emissions or energy consumption and making process improvements as a result (E2986).

Work for the Future

“We’ve had lean manufacturing and quality manufacturing. Now we have smart manufacturing,” says Rachuri. Smart is rapidly changing the face of manufacturing in surprising ways. As Johnston says, “Three years ago, I never thought I’d be doing the things I’m doing now.”

With SMAC, stakeholders are gathering to discuss current smart manufacturing technologies as well as those on the horizon. The needed, future ASTM standards will be more efficiently coordinated and the right partnerships will be formed.