Smart Manufacturing

Venturing Wisely into Smart Manufacturing

There are always risks for new manufacturing technology programs. To ensure progress, you’ll need to consider five key aspects.

It’s less risky to start smart manufacturing initiatives now rather than later. Why?

For one, there’s a good chance your competitors have started such initiatives, so you may be left behind. Our research at the not-for-profit Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) shows that most manufacturers have had at least one project underway since the end of 2017. 

Perhaps more importantly, moving to smart manufacturing can help you reach and serve customers better and more profitably.

There are always risks for new manufacturing technology programs. To ensure progress, you’ll need to consider five key aspects (which I’ll detail later in the article). This is true no matter what the focus of your project may be.

What Is Smart Manufacturing?

MESA defines Smart Manufacturing as the intelligent, real-time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain. Resources and processes are automated, integrated, monitored and continuously evaluated based on all available information as close to real-time as possible.

MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Working Group chairman, Conrad Leiva, believes that the time is now for manufacturers to move into a digitally connected future. “This should not be viewed as a daunting task but rather as a natural move of the cheese,” he says. “In fact, evolution is already happening as companies strive to keep up with the fast pace of technology innovation and re-envision the future.”

Inside the Digital Factory

Smart manufacturing certainly includes the smart, connected digital factory. IIoT, robotics, augmented reality, smart machines and 3D and additive printing are exciting technologies that often form the centerpiece of digital factory discussions. Yet those technologies alone don’t create a smart or digital factory. Plant floor software such as manufacturing execution systems (MES) or manufacturing operations management (MOM)—including WIP, track and trace, scheduling, maintenance, quality, and more—must evolve to support the digital factory as well.

Some of the questions we hear from manufacturers and discussions we have around the smart, connected factory include:

Is there a business case for adding sensors and IoT to older equipment in the plant?
Companies are finding that with prices coming down, they can begin to experiment and see what data is useful before deciding on the long-term plan.

Is there a business case for an IIoT platform in the plant? How does it integrate into existing systems like MES?
It’s clear that software must evolve to meet new needs. However, there is debate about the specific architectures digital factories need.

Beyond the Factory

Smart manufacturing involves new ways of working across the supply chain to connect suppliers, distributors, outsource partners and others as a seamless operation. It also requires better data continuity through the product and production asset lifecycle—from concept, to manufacturing, to use in the field, to repair or refurbishment, to the recycling of materials.

New analytics systems can utilize the massive amounts of data we are now creating to improve the plant, supply chain, product design and how we run the business. Many manufacturers have already found ways to accelerate improvement using forward-looking analytics approaches.

Interconnected Topics

MESA has created a Smart Manufacturing Community with five topic-focused groups and the intersections among them:

·         Smart Connected Factory / Digital Factory

·         MES and its Role in Smart Manufacturing

·         Digital Thread / Digital Twin

·         Smart Connected Supply Chain

·         Analytics & Big Data

Some projects will span more than one of these areas, and nearly any project will impact the other areas. For example, detailed plant scheduling touches both the smart connected supply chain and the digital factory. It can also impact MES and the digital thread.

5 Key Considerations

Most of us in manufacturing have seen exciting projects succeed—and fail. What matters to progress and ultimately having the greatest positive impact? Ensuring you take everything into account. When putting a roadmap together, consider:

1.       Business strategy

2.       Empowered team

3.       Streamlined process

4.       Connective technologies

5.       Connected things

These are the major blocks in MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Roadmap.
There are many aspects to consider in each area and overlapping between them. For example, one company’s big data experts managed to create algorithms to evaluate the match between one stage of the product and the next. The algorithms revealed that often, the first phase sub-product outcome was not suitable for mating with the next stage sub-product. This may seem likely to lead to improvement. It did not. It did not consider the business process and disempowered the production team, since they could not re-do either stage of the product at that point. What they needed was analysis to show a way to fine-tune the first-stage production, so its output could reliably match the second.

Share and Learn with Peers

It can be lonely working on these strategic initiatives. If you are trying something new, others in the company often cannot help. As a not-for-profit industry association where manufacturing and IT meet, MESA has ways for both members and non-members to learn from each other and from experts who focus on ensuring the success of these types of programs.

  • MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Community. This Community is open and free of charge to anyone working on, planning or interested in smart manufacturing projects and initiatives. People share what they are learning, ask questions and learn from each other in a safe environment.
  • Smart Manufacturing Research Program. The first chart in this article came from this, as IndustryWeek teamed up with MESA and research company Iyno Advisors to develop the report Seeking Common Ground for Smart Manufacturing. Be on the lookout for a new research survey later this year.
  • MESA Smart Manufacturing Working Group. This group develops new content (written and multi-media) that helps guide companies. Those materials are available in MESA’s Resource Library. Some of them are available to members only, and some are public.

These efforts are funded by sponsors who contribute expertise to these group discussions as well. “We want to support manufacturers in moving toward Smart Manufacturing,” says Louis Columbus, Principal at IQMS, current sponsor of MESA’s Smart Manufacturing Research Program and Working Group. “One way we are doing that is by supporting MESA’s efforts to generate unbiased content and safe environments for peer discussions.”

Progress with Confidence

It’s essential that all five key considerations are part of the context for every Smart Manufacturing initiative and project. Before you spend time or money, be confident your efforts will deliver the success your company envisions and accomplish these goals:

  • Align with and enable financially successful business strategies
  • Empower the people whose jobs will change as new technologies are introduced.
  • Streamline processes and enrich the context of how work gets done daily
  • Enable greater integration to smart, connected technologies and sensors, including the Internet of Things (IoT)

 Progress, profits and agility await. Those goals and more like them demand a clear focus on how integrating technologies accelerates manufacturing growth. The contextual intelligence and value each technology provides toward achieving business goals is essential. Gain insights, build the roadmap, and achieve desired outcomes.

Julie Fraser is MESA Smart Manufacturing Community lead and principal of manufacturing analytics firm Iyno Advisors Inc.



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