In a prior blog post, Rik Geerts explained how MESA International came up with an abbreviated definition for Smart Manufacturing and how he tried it out with a colleague in the food processing industry. I want to share some of the back story on the Working Group side of the story and my own experience trying out the elevator pitch in a totally different industry -- aerospace and defense.
As Chair of the MESA Smart Manufacturing Working Group, when I first saw the email from Rik requesting that we boil down the definition to a single sentence, I thought it would be an impossible task. After all, we had just finished a white paper explaining the many technologies and initiatives that are converging into Smart Manufacturing and had trouble summarizing the goals for Smart Manufacturing to a half page. But we went ahead and forwarded the idea to the working group and it started a very interesting and productive string of emails and ideas.
After discussing a few key words back and forth and explaining the importance for each word in the definition, we converged on a sentence that allowed us to encompass the different dimensions and differentiators. Not a catchy phrase but a short sentence that can be used to start the conversation and make some very important points to distinguish Smart Manufacturing efforts from automation efforts of the past two decades. Smart Manufacturing sets a new bar for connectivity and integration.
A couple of weeks later, Rik shared with us his experience using the one liner and it gave me the idea to try it out too. I was at lunch at a user conference and I approached an attendee sitting by himself. Doug is a project manager who had just presented his team’s experience implementing a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) at an aerospace manufacturing company. Could I use the same abbreviated definition in a totally different industry?
Conrad: Doug, now that you completed this project, what are you going to work on next?
Doug: I haven’t really given it much thought. I have been so involved putting this solution in place... But now that we are done… I guess we should start thinking of what is next. Why do you ask? Do you have something in mind?
Conrad: As a matter of fact, I do. Smart Manufacturing.
Doug: I have seen some articles on that and on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), but I really haven’t spent much time researching it. Why do you feel I should be interested?
Conrad: Because Smart Manufacturing is the next wave of innovation and connectivity. Smart Manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical, and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain.
Doug: Sounds impressive but it also sounds like the project we just completed at our company when we implemented MES?
Conrad: That project gets you started in this direction, but let me drill down a bit more to point out the differences.
Doug: Okay. I’m a bit curious. What do you mean by “orchestration”, “optimization” and “value chain”? We have some time before the next session starts.
Conrad: We stress “intelligent” because we want to contrast the active decision making of automated processes against the passive data collection and reporting of your current systems. Not that reports and metrics aren’t important, but we are moving beyond that to an era where systems are proactively helping us manage operations—active versus passive.
Doug: So robots will be replacing workers AND managers too?
Conrad: Not exactly. Robots are being used for repetitive and precision jobs. They will also be making routine decisions through programmed criteria and algorithms. But people will always be needed. People will need to handle the more complicated tasks like configuring, setting up and maintaining the robots. Managers will be focusing on the daily non-routine issues that come up at the plant. In fact, Smart Manufacturing is about “orchestration” of “business, physical, and digital processes” and we cannot run the business processes without a smart workforce.
Doug: Can you give me an example of orchestrating processes across business, physical and digital?
Conrad: We were talking about Model-Based Enterprise and the Digital Thread earlier today. Those concepts are also part of Smart Manufacturing. We want to take that 3D model coming out of product design, link and translate it directly into the programming of an inspection machine, like a CMM (Coordinate Measurement Machine)—linking the digital definition of the product to the programming of the physical machine. We would link that data transmission and translation into the entire business process managing engineering changes.
Changes are then synchronized across all equipment and all people involved in the manufacturing and inspection process. This orchestration is not limited to the plant, we could be talking about a part that is made at a supplier. We want this type of integration throughout the entire “value chain” producing the product. From design engineering to production in the supply chain, assembly and MRO (maintenance, repair and overhaul) operations.
Doug: Sounds like a pipe dream. Have you seen that working anywhere?
Conrad: Not completely yet. There are some gaps today. But we are working with some companies on these types of solutions and we would like to work with your company on getting closer to this vision.
Doug: Maybe I’ll wait and see what others come up with.
Conrad: You could take that position. But I think that your team does not want to sit on the side lines and watch your competitors get ahead. Because we are not just talking about optimization within their plants. We are talking about “optimization” of the entire value chain—entire supply chains creating new business models and new value for customers. The companies that start working together with a digital thread and connected systems will raise the bar and create new expectations from customers. For example, we are starting to see interest from the DoD on adding these types of requirements to future bids.
Doug: We have to get back into the session, but I think we need to keep talking about this latter. It sounds very interesting.
Doug and I continued that conversation later and his team is currently doing research into Smart Manufacturing and IIoT looking for opportunities to start some pilot projects.
So far, Rik and I have tested out the short Smart Manufacturing definition in two totally different industries, food processing and aerospace, and it seems to work. I think you should try it out in your industry and share your experience with us.
Was the idea understood? Did you have to adjust the message? Did it create interest in starting some initiatives at your company? We want to keep refining the message and expanding the list of examples moving Smart Manufacturing forward.
For more information on the MESA Smart Manufacturing Working Group visit this link: