Monday, July 9, 2018

New Research and Tools Help Smart Manufacturing Initiatives

This blog is a MESA Member Point of View

By Conrad Leiva, MESA International Board Member and chair of MESA's Smart Manufacturing Working Group

Join MESA's Smart Manufacturing Community and its LinkedIn Group for more research. 

I was fortunate to participate at the MESA International workshop on Smart Manufacturing this spring listening and speaking with many leaders and practitioners working on innovation initiatives for their manufacturing companies under the general theme of Smart and Digital Manufacturing transformation. 

The digital transformation trend that started a few years ago continues stronger than ever. The digital business strategy for these companies has two main goals: (i) digital business optimization with goals of improved customer experience and improved productivity, and (ii) digital business transformation with goals of new business models and increased revenue through product and service offerings that leverage new levels of digital product data in this era of IoT.  

MESA International’s survey, performed with Industry Week, shows that among U.S. manufacturers, the preferred term for this digital transformation is Smart Manufacturing (around 50%) followed by Connected Enterprise, Digital Manufacturing, and Industry 4.0 (each around 10-15%). [1]

There are a lot of new technologies we can apply to help us realize the Smart Manufacturing vision and manufacturers are currently trying many of them. Connected supply chain, Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and Robotics were on the top of manufacturers list of current projects related to Smart Manufacturing. 

MESA reports that 62% of manufacturers have already started with projects towards Smart Manufacturing.[1] Manufacturers are currently focused on getting the foundational pieces in place including supply chain collaboration, robotics, and manufacturing execution system (MES) before they start implementing the next wave of innovation with IIoT, big data, and advanced analytics.


I participated at a table with manufacturers working on a broad range of initiatives including “results as a service”, distributed modular localized manufacturing, and manufacturing to single quantity custom orders. 

There is a need to increase the organization’s speed to innovate and the need for better communication mechanisms. Examples were shared of flattening organizational structure to empower more local decisions while increasing transparency and visibility across the organization. Managers are learning how to handle more localized decisions while maintaining the organization’s global goals in mind. 

We discussed how Lean Manufacturing and Smart Manufacturing initiatives are overlapping. Today’s Lean Manufacturing needs to embrace technology to eliminate waste across business processes and optimize the entire value chain. These are the goals of Smart Manufacturing. It is not just about optimizing the plant, it is about optimizing the entire value chain. 

For example, how can the organization distribute instructions into the supply chain that are automatically translated into scheduling, programming, and configuration changes for their production of materials, ingredients and parts? How do they deliver digital data with those materials and parts to be easily folded into data for the final assembled product?

In fact, several participants discussed how their companies were pursuing connecting the supply chain as a strategic priority. Many manufacturers are working the supply chain and operations improvement initiatives in parallel and independently. How are we going to bridge the plant data into that value chain communication channel?


An interesting quote shared was “If I don’t know where I’m going, any path will get me there”. 

Indeed, we are seeing a lot of exciting technology advances, but how do we put it all together and thread it into a new Smart Manufacturing enterprise? 

Manufacturers need tools to help them navigate the ocean of technologies, systems, platforms and connection alternatives. One recent assessment tool is the Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index [3] which helps companies assess at a high level their readiness in dimensions of process, technology, and organizational structure. 

MESA has several tools for assessment and is working on more of these types of tools to help the manufacturing IT staff. Their current tools include: 
I encourage you to check out the resource references listed below for more information on advancing your Smart Manufacturing initiatives. 

To participate in more discussions like this one with peers working on similar projects, please join the MESA Smart Manufacturing Community. For information on joining this free community of manufacturing peers working on Smart Manufacturing, visit this link

We also have an upcoming webcast where we are sharing some of the highlights from the last workshop at the MESA North American Conference this past May. Please register to join us on July 25th for this live panel discussion


[1] Research Report: Seeking Common Ground for Smart Manufacturing, MESA International, 2018 

[3] Singapore Smart Industry Readiness Index, Singapore Economic Development Board, 2018 

[4] MESA Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) Capability Maturity Model, MESA International, 2016 (available to MESA members only) 

[5] Metrics Maturity Framework - A Guide to Assessment and a Roadmap to Increased Performance, MESA International, 2016  (available to MESA members only) 

[6] MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Page (periodically updated with new resources and many for non-members) 

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 and Co-Chair of the MESA Smart Manufacturing Community.

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