Seeking Common Ground for Smart Manufacturing

April 14, 2018
A new research project by IndustryWeek and MESA International is uncovering both common ground and controversy among smart manufacturing initiatives, priorities, and tactics. Now, two manufacturing experts are clearing the air.

The drive toward smart manufacturing represents a major and fundamental shift in the industry. Built on big data, analytics, and the connected power of the IIoT, the smart manufacturing journey is breaking down silos both within the factory and throughout the supply chain, while also transforming traditional operational models into smarter, more efficient systems.

In the process, manufacturing companies are creating new ecosystems and moving to new business models like mass customization, product-as-a-service, and continuous innovation. All of this requires proactive management of manufacturing operations across an enterprise and value chain with resources and processes automated, integrated, monitored and continuously evaluated through all available information.

Before we can move to planning the roadmap to achieve this vision of connected smart manufacturing ecosystems and value chains, we first need to establish some common ground on the goals, terminology, and current state.

To do that, IndustryWeek and MESA International recently teamed up to survey North American manufacturers on these issues. The results demonstrate a lot of common ground between companies and markets involved in smart manufacturing, and a lot of controversy, too.

The full results—and the first action steps on them—will be revealed at the 2018 IndustryWeek Manufacturing & Technology Conference, in an exclusive workshop featured in the co-located MESA International's 2018 North American Conference.

The session will be led by Conrad Leiva—vice president of product strategy and alliances at iBASEt—and Julie Fraser—a manufacturing software analyst and consultant with over 30 years of experience in the industry.

Together, they will clear the air on smart manufacturing and lead workshop participants through the conversations they need to have in order to put these ideas into action.

Recently, IndustryWeek met up with Leiva and Fraser to get an early look at the findings and hear what they are planning for the event.

IW: First, what are some areas of common ground you have discovered in the industry around these smart manufacturing initiatives?

FRASER: Urgency. In our conversations, most manufacturers are focused on creating more digital information flow both within their organization and across their value chains. While the drivers are different in every industry, disruptors—plus customer and regulatory expectations—are making nearly every company feel some urgency to transform their business.

Initiatives. Most manufacturers and producers are working on a strategy for smart manufacturing; our initial online research shows more than half have implemented at least one project.

Objectives. More than half of the manufacturing respondents are seeking operational efficiencies and reduced operating costs from their smart manufacturing initiatives.

LEIVA: A big portion of the other half are looking at transformative business models and value chain integration.  

FRASER: Analytics is critical. Fully 84% of manufacturers in our initial survey feel big data and analytics of unstructured data is critical for smart manufacturing success.

IW: There are also areas of "controversy" where the consensus is much less clear. What are some of the major ones?

FRASER: Terminology. When presented with a few options for what to call this, most of our US-centered response base chose "smart manufacturing." However, when asked prior to that to tell us what it's called in their organization, we got nearly as many different responses as responding organizations.

Approach. One thing we noticed in these write-ins is that many call this continuous improvement, lean or something similar. We are finding out they are considering this a continuation of existing lean and continuous improvement initiatives. Others seem to view it as a radical new strategy for the company, focusing on entirely new business models and ways of delivering value. So is it a major strategic change, or simply more of the same incremental improvement?

What's included. While most seem to feel that smart manufacturing includes connected factory and connected supply chain, the Industrial Internet of Things, and digital manufacturing, a substantial portion do not agree that each of those are part of smart manufacturing.

Cybersecurity. Can smart manufacturing be secured effectively? Is the risk of connecting everything on the Internet worth the reward?

MES. Is there a role for MES, or will IIoT Platforms mean you don't need MES?

IW: Now that we have this data, what is the next step for the industry?

FRASER: So the program has already conducted an initial online survey in conjunction with IndustryWeek, and that helps set a baseline for North America. The program will then include interviews with manufacturers and producers worldwide, as well as working group activities where we'll pull forward current state-of-the-art learning and stories of the projects and initiatives underway now.

It's relevant because every company has only so much bandwidth for new initiatives. By learning from other companies—both in similar industries and in industries that are quite different—every manufacturer stands to accelerate their own company's thinking and the progress of their initiatives. We plan to illuminate what works—and what perhaps does not yet work. Where are the pitfalls, what are the considerations, where are the benefits. Rather than spending their own resources to discover all of this, each participating company will get an opportunity to learn more, and learn it much more rapidly.

LEIVA: It is also important that smart manufacturing initiatives are not worked solely within each enterprise because the goal is to connect the entire manufacturing value chain. The more you work with peers in the industry to align these goals and agree on how to exchange data and orchestrate the value chain to realize the vision, the more likely that these goals will be achieved earlier rather than later.

IW: What are the biggest topics/concerns with smart manufacturing and how will you help attendees deal with them?

FRASER: The biggest concerns are often around a few key topics: Where to start, how to proceed (what to do first).

LEIVA: What we want to do is to start communities around some common initiatives found in the survey including analytics, IT-OT convergence, and connected supply chain. We figure that getting people together that are making progress on these initiatives and people just getting started will provide a valuable outcome to everyone. We want to move from talking about smart manufacturing to making significant progress on the journey.

You can hear the full results of this project and take an active part in the progress in the MESA NA Conference workshop, "Seeking Common Ground for Smart Manufacturing," at the 2018 IW M&T Show, May 8-10 in Raleigh, NC. Register Now!

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