Wednesday, March 23, 2016

The Smart Manufacturing Elevator Pitch, Literally!

By Rik Geerts, member of several MESA International working groups and member of the International Board of Directors. 

I was wearing my MESA International pin this morning in the elevator and one of my colleagues, John the Lead of the Chicken Business Unit, asked me what I was working on at MESA. I told him “Smart Manufacturing.” With big eyes he looked at me and said, “I’m curious, what is Smart Manufacturing?” … I struggled … the elevator door saved me. John said while walking out, “Lets catch-up later Rik!” 

This short conversation made me decide to work on a one-line definition for Smart Manufacturing. How can I simply explain this concept to someone in the elevator next time?
I expected this to be a simple task but it turned out to be more complex than I thought. 

I wrote down a one-liner and contacted the MESA Smart Manufacturing Working Group for help. I started with: “Smart Manufacturing is all about integrated real-time business and physical processes optimization and modernization across the supply chain from supplier to production to customer.” Turns out the topic of boiling down the definition to one sentence started an intensive discussion and to keep a long story short, the working group came with a strong definition. Now I am prepared for elevator questions. 

A couple days later the expected opportunity came but this time in the hallway. John said “Rik, can you now tell me what Smart Manufacturing is?” And YEAH I was ready. I told him “Smart Manufacturing is the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain.”

John immediately responded by saying: “That sounds very interesting. I would like to understand this better because my business needs more intelligence and optimization urgently. The requirements in my chicken business are huge. Customers and regulations are putting more demands on us. Can we sit down and chat some more on this?”

This was a unique opportunity for me because I was trying to get attention for some business unit enhancements needed for traceability from Farm-to-Fork and who better to talk to than the business leader himself. John asked me, “What do you mean by intelligent?” I responded as follows: 

Rik: “Intelligent” means active intelligence versus passive systems that just collect and report data. Routine decisions are made by automated smart systems based on high-level constraints. This leaves managers to manage the more important issues we need to manage every day. 

“Orchestration” is about coordinating the flow of business processes through resources across the manufacturing value chain so they are in-sync and data flows smoothly. This is the next level of synchronization between “business, physical, digital processes” which covers people, physical equipment and digital IT processes all together. And we are not just talking inside each factory, we need to orchestrate business processes in the entire value chain. Are you familiar with the term “value chain”? 

John (chuckling): I am used to hearing “supply chain”. Can you put some chicken meat behind that term?  

Rik: We like the term “value chain” to make sure we are including everyone involved from design of the product, packaging, and processing to partners, suppliers, and services we might be delivering along with our products. 

“Optimization” is probably the most obvious, but when we leverage the digital version of the physical process, we can use simulations and mathematical models to do what-if analysis and optimize decisions. For instance, maximizing the use of resources to deliver as soon as possible to the customer, adjusting schedules to work around issues while minimizing overtime, minimizing energy use, or selecting the quickest cheapest route to expedite raw materials or delivery to the customer. 

My colleague was impressed. I had accomplished my mission with the one-line definition and now I get a chance to put a business case together to further explain the details and explain how a Smart Manufacturing initiative could give us an edge in future competitive business. 

About the Author

Rik Geerts is a Senior Solution Architect and Senior Advisor specialized in Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM). He has over 30 years of experience in design and implementation of a wide range of automation system solutions in the manufacturing space with focus on electrical, instrumentation, and automation (EI&A), plant IT, ERP, manufacturing operations and quality management in food processing industry. Over the years Rik became an evangelist for MOM / MES solutions and is very active in several MESA working groups and the International Board of Directors. 

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