Thursday, April 12, 2018

The Smart Manufacturing Journey: Walk? or Quantum Leap?

By Mike Yost, President, MESA International

Some say Smart Manufacturing is a walk - a methodical progression of manufacturing capabilities, beginning with a hodgepodge of disparate systems and processes that ends in a connected enterprise of smart devices and systems and plants.  Sounds logical…

But, that implies any manufacturer in a digital/connected/smart state today had to start long ago; and, doesn’t that contradict the argument that Smart Manufacturing is new?  That it’s only possible now because of Cloud Computing, Cyber-Physical Systems, Big Data, Analytics?

Proponents of the “Smart is new” argument say modern technologies make anything possible.  “Give us higher fidelity sensors, more powerful modeling capabilities and more and more advanced technologies on more powerful (and affordable and secure) clouds, and we can find any needle in any haystack to keep us safe and profitable and competitive.”  No need to walk when we can run!

At MESA, we say that Smart Manufacturing is “equal parts Smart People and Smart Technologies.”  Those smart people are still sorting through the ins-and-outs of Smart Manufacturing - what it is, what it means to them, why they should care and what they should do now.  Many are walking, continuing to instrument and automate their equipment and processes and layer in smarter devices and systems. Others are taking quantum leaps - jumping without apparent effort and seemingly without covering all the bases between the starting and ending points.  These “quantum leapers” see opportunity to think differently and create a data-driven advantage in their plants and across their businesses - and they’re doing it!

Many of those Smart People will be together in a few weeks, and I invite you to join them.  They’ll be at the MESA annual conference May 8 - 10 in Raleigh, North Carolina, USA, to work through questions like this, share ideas and learn from each other in a number of forums:

  • May 8: A 3-hour workshop to ‘Seek Common Ground in Smart Manufacturing’ - leveraging new survey findings and drilling into:
                   -Smart Connect Factory: IIoT, Smart Machines, Robotics, Augmented Reality
                   -Analytics: Predictive and Prescriptive, Big Data, Artificial Intelligence, Machine                                      Learning
                   -MES/MOM: It’s role in Smart Manufacturing
                   -Enabling New Business Models: Product-as-Service, Mass Customization, IoT Data                            Services, On-demand 3D printing

  • May 9: Four (4) peer presentations covering the entire spectrum of the Smart Manufacturing journey - from those just starting to someone living digital transformation - all in a single day!
  • May 10: The release of MESA’s 7th biennial edition of our ‘Analytics That Matter’ research with our partner, LNS Research.

I’ve had the good fortune of playing in these types of discussions regionally, nationally and globally for some time.  In fact, I could (gladly) argue that MESA’s been on this mission since it’s inception in 1992.  What’s different today, in addition to the technologies, is the commitment.  Governments around the world are looking to Smart Manufacturing to build a sustainable economic advantage for their countries.  They call it different names - Digital Transformation, Digitalization of Manufacturing, Industrie4.0, the Industrial Internet, Brilliant Manufacturing.  But, they want the same thing: modern technologies unlocking manufacturing’s economic engine.

Personally, I believe Smart Manufacturing is a catalyst - the biggest catalyst for change I’ve seen in my 30 years in manufacturing.  To seize on an opportunity like that, I’d suggest you run, not walk.

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