Thursday, May 18, 2017

Notes From The Smart Manufacturing And IIoT Round Table Discussion

MESA-2017-Roundtable-Discussion-2I am sharing below some of my favorite highlights from the round table discussions on Smart Manufacturing at the 2017 Manufacturing & Technology Conference at Cleveland. MESA International organized this forum and there were many common discussion threads and questions among manufacturers moving forward with Smart Manufacturing and IIoT initiatives in their respective companies.

After going around the table with introductions we decided to frame the discussion around a repeating story line:  A manufacturer has multiple plants. They have a mix of plants running different Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) plus some plants running on paper and spreadsheets. Some plants had over the years moved from spreadsheets to custom apps built on top of desktop database software and ended up with a few custom built MES solutions.
The manufacturer has just finished implementing ERP. The focus of the ERP project had been to standardize accounting practices and lower inventory costs. JIT initiatives drove the implementation of ERP a few years ago and they finally finished.
The manufacturer is now looking to connect manufacturing processes using a more standard solution across plants. 
Why? They have a new manager and he wants to be able to compare plants and prioritize the issues he is going to tackle. Where does he start? He needs visibility of metrics across the plants and needs numbers that he can use to compare. For real transparency, standard ways are needed to collect data and turn that data into metrics that are consistent across the plants.
There is also a push to lower the maintenance cost of the various custom MES solutions. The various MES solutions are slow to be enhanced and are not keeping up with OS and platform changes.
We agreed that this was a typical scenario that everyone could relate to. We continued with more in depth questions and examples to figure out approaches to better tackle next steps by learning from each other’s experience.
Q: The ERP vendor says they can handle the shop floor also. Should we go with the ERP vendor or go with an MES vendor? Should we get guidance from vendors or from a system integrator? Consultants are expensive resources.
A: The group had seen all the above approaches. The recommended practice is to select an advisor and vendor with experience in the specific industry. Interview and survey a few and select one you are comfortable with. This approach seems to yield the best guidance and results based on project experiences presented at the conference and documented by industry analysts.
Q: What are typical first steps that companies are taking on the journey to a future smart factory? What are companies doing now to get ready for the future?
A: One company started grabbing numbers from machines and putting them into a database. Managers liked it and wanted it in more areas. They said “Just Do It” .
Q: Did you do ROI analysis?
A: Justified first project as productivity improvement. Second project justified to better fulfill traceability requirements.
Q: Is it an all or nothing strategy? Is your plan to connect all machines or do you prioritize among machines and work centers?
A: One company decided to start with new work centers and new equipment first because the equipment had better support for connectivity and APIs. However, they are hoping to connect legacy equipment in the future.
Another company started by blueprinting their as-is processes.
Q: Did you apply Value Stream Mapping (VSM) to your as-is analysis? Some of the things we are working on within MESA is to create examples of applying VSM to manufacturing automation and IT projects. We would like to create templates and examples on how to justify and prioritize these types of projects using VSM type of methods.
A: We did not use something formal like VSM, but our management likes Lean so it would probably be a good idea.
Q: Many vendors pitch: give me your data and we can analyze it. But “getting the data” is the hard part. We are being asked to be “world class”. We are getting world class machines, but we are still chasing the process with clipboards and paper. A lot of manufacturing data on paper. Any ideas on best practices?
A: First, get your network in place. The right grade of network, cooling closets, etc. Then you need actionable data—not just any data. Spend time defining the problems you want to solve and the data needed to do the respective analysis. Be ready to shift gears as you do your analysis and find that your initial hypothesis was wrong. You don’t see correlation where you expected. You might need to start collecting different data. With the right infrastructure, it is easier to shift and add new types of sensors in different places.
Q: Management has seen the price tag to do the rest of plant and they asked us to take a step back and make sure we are doing the right thing. For example, should we keep working with this system integrator, with this vendor, or should we build it ourselves?
A: We use the OT/Automation group to do these projects. We do not wait around for IT. If we could only marry the IT team’s smarts of architecture and coding practices with the OT team’s smarts on the automation needs.
Q: Have you had to deal a loss of the initial drive to connect things?
A: No. We have had a steady increase of motivation. We found that having a “poster child” deployment helped a lot. We put a focused effort into making that project very successful. Now we have developed faith with management. They believe that if we connect the machines and get data, it will lead to more savings. They have seen the results of our champion deployments. Now everyone wants to replicate that success. They want it everywhere!
Q: How can MESA help you with your initiatives?
A: We find these roundtable discussions useful. We need more forums like this. People are more willing to share in these smaller groups among peers.
I did not capture the entire discussion in these notes—just my personal favorite highlights. Let us know if you feel any of these topics deserve further elaboration in future articles. If you find these types of discussions interesting, your team should consider joining MESA International. For more information visit
Karen Field from IndustryWeek magazine captured other perspectives on these discussions in her article: “MESA Turns to Crowd Sourcing to Tackle Manufacturers' Biggest Challenges”.
About the Author
Conrad Leiva is VP Product Strategy and Alliances at iBASEt. Conrad consults many Aerospace & Defense companies on how to streamline the paperwork and information flow among Planning, Inventory, Quality, Production and Supply Chain disciplines. Recently, his work has focused on manufacturing intelligence and the digital thread between engineering, business, and manufacturing systems working with PLM and ERP partners. Conrad is on the International Board of Directors at MESA International and is Chairman of the MESA Smart Manufacturing Working Group.

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