Manager's guide to smart manufacturing framework and SOFEM

Smart manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical, and digital processes within and across the entire value chain, leveraging technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and digital twins.

DQI Bureau
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SOFEM Model for Smart Manufacturing

The SOFEM model stand for smart-operation-factory-enterprise-manufacturing, a trademark by Scale Element Pte Ltd.


Smart manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical, and digital processes within and across the entire value chain, leveraging technologies like the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI), and digital twins. This human-centric approach enables sustainable and agile manufacturing practices and processes, ensuring responsiveness to customer needs and market shifts.

Based on the SOFEM framework, here's an explanation of smart manufacturing based on the three primary colours and their intersections:

Three pillars and the colour meanings

Red: Represents technology, encompassing digital tools, automation, artificial intelligence (AI), and other advanced technologies used in smart manufacturing.


Yellow: Represents people, including the workforce, their skills, knowledge, and adaptability to new technologies.

Blue: Represents processes, referring to the production workflows, quality control procedures, and overall operational efficiency.

Intersections and their colour meanings

Red + Blue (Purple): Smart factory - This zone signifies the physical manifestation of smart manufacturing, where technology and processes converge to automate tasks, optimize production, and gather real-time data.


Yellow + Blue (Green): Smart operation - This area highlights the human element within smart processes. It emphasizes how skilled workers can leverage technology to improve operational efficiency, decision-making, and problem-solving.

Red + Yellow (Orange): Smart enterprise - This zone represents the broader organizational impact of smart manufacturing. It signifies how technology empowers people across various departments (engineering, marketing, sales) to collaborate and optimize the entire value chain.

Red + Yellow + Blue (White): Smart Manufacturing - The core intersection symbolizes integrating technology, people, and processes. This is the heart of successful smart manufacturing, where all the three elements work harmoniously to achieve an optimal performance, agility, and innovation.


Colour mixing analogy

Just like primary colours (red, yellow, and blue) can be mixed to create various other colours, these three fundamental pillars (Technology, People, and Processes) can be combined to achieve diverse smart manufacturing goals. The mix will depend on your industry, company size, and unique objectives. However, focusing solely on one or two elements without considering all three can hinder your progress.

Importance of each element

For a successful end-to-end smart manufacturing implementation, it's crucial to emphasize each element:

Technology: Investing in the right tools and infrastructure is essential, but without skilled people to operate and adapt them, the technology becomes ineffective.


People: Upskilling and reskilling your workforce is paramount to ensure they can effectively utilize new technologies and contribute their expertise to optimize processes.

Processes: Optimizing your existing processes before integrating technology lays a strong foundation for a smooth and efficient smart manufacturing transformation.

For leaders that want to use this framework, it is about drawing a vision and roadmap for smart manufacturing. 


The three primary elements -- people, technology, and processes -- are a powerful framework for manufacturing leaders to visualize and design their journey towards smart manufacturing. Here's how they can leverage this framework.

Vision mapping

Define your "Why": Start by articulating the purpose behind your smart manufacturing transformation. What are your business goals? How will smart manufacturing contribute to your overall vision? Communicating this "why" is crucial for organizational buy-in and alignment.

Assess your "Where": Conduct a thorough assessment of your current state regarding people, technology, and processes. Identify strengths, weaknesses, and existing initiatives related to each element. The Smart Industry Readiness Index (SIRI) is a tool for the assessment.


Envision your "What": Using the assessment, define your desired future state as a smart manufacturing enterprise. Could you describe how technology will augment you, optimize how optimized processes will enhance efficiency, and how the combination will achieve your business goals?

Roadmap development and prioritization based on analyzers

Analyze your resource availability (budget, expertise) and prioritize initiatives that make the most sense given your current state and desired future.

Develop a phased approach: Break down your vision into achievable milestones and actionable steps. Each phase should focus on specific improvements in People, Technology, and Processes, resulting in the realization of your overall image.

Align with business goals: Make sure each step in the roadmap directly contributes to your identified business goals. This ensures clear focus and avoids unnecessary detours.

For SMEs to remain in these competitive markets, they need a roadmap to sustain their short-term and long-term growth.

Utilizing the color framework

Red (Technology): Focus on strategic technology investments that address your needs and goals. Don't get caught up in the latest trends; choose solutions that solve real problems and integrate seamlessly with your existing infrastructure.

Yellow (People): Invest in your workforce through training, upskilling, and reskilling programs. Cultivate a continuous learning and adaptation culture to embrace new technologies and processes.

Blue (Processes): Optimize your existing processes before integrating technology. Streamline workflows, eliminate bottlenecks, and ensure data accuracy for effective technology implementation. LEAN Manufacturing can be applied here.

White (Smart Manufacturing): Success lies in the synergy between these elements. Foster collaboration between departments (IT, operations, HR, etc.) to ensure a holistic approach to smart manufacturing implementation.

In today's competitive landscape, embracing Smart Manufacturing is no longer an option. It's a necessity for manufacturers to remain sustainable and agile. By integrating people, technology, and processes, you can achieve cost reductions, increased efficiency, and improved product quality, ultimately boosting your bottom line and market competitiveness.

At the heart of Smart Manufacturing lies the seamless integration of technologies like IIoT, AI, and digital twins with optimized production workflows and skilled worker expertise. This enables real-time data-driven decision-making, predictive maintenance, and automated tasks, enhancing productivity and operational efficiency.

Potential challenges

While the benefits of Smart Manufacturing are undeniable, implementing it requires careful planning and consideration of potential challenges. These include investments in technology and infrastructure, upskilling the workforce, ensuring data security, and navigating talent gaps. However, proper planning and collaboration can overcome these challenges, paving the way for a successful Smart Manufacturing transformation.

Remember, transforming into smart manufacturing is a journey, not a destination. Be prepared to adapt your vision and roadmap based on learnings and market dynamics. By strategically combining these three pillars using the People, Technology, and Processes framework as a guide, manufacturing leaders can effectively draw a vision and develop a roadmap to achieve sustainable Smart Manufacturing in the era of Industry 4.0. and the competitive industrial landscape.

A case in point is that one of Singapore's SMEs, Fong's Engineering, is reaping the rewards of Smart Manufacturing after implementing the concept. According to Joseph WONG - Director of Technology & TransformationDirector of Technology & Transformation, by investing in smart production lines and upskilling their workforce, they have achieved a 30% improvement in Productivity and a significant improvement and great consistency in product quality. This demonstrates the tangible benefits that Smart Manufacturing can bring to your organization.

-- Colin Koh, Founding Member @ AI Asia Expo, Industry Leader, and Book Author on Smart Manufacturing.

Industry 4.0 smart manufacturing