A closing call for democratization

Industry needs to collaborate to create smart, innovative solutions that can be accessed by all.

By Chris McNamara, Smart Industry content director

As the closing presenter of the 2018 Smart Industry conference, Haresh Malkani was aware that his audience had just been exposed to plenty—three days’ worth—of perspectives on what makes up smart manufacturing.

And during his presentation titled “The democratization of smart, sustainable manufacturing,” the chief technology officer of the Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute (CESMII) addressed how pleased he was to be in this environment, among like-minded professionals focused on the tools and technologies and trends at the heart of modern manufacturing.

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“It’s getting industry to the point where every asset in every system can leverage smart elements.” CESMII’s Haresh Malkani envisions an advanced technological landscape with affordable, accessible solutions for all.

Malkani noted the themes recurrent through many presentations over the previous three days. Adapting business models. Applying tech from the plant floor to the edge to the cloud. Shifting cultural environments during this journey of digital transformation.

But something stuck out in his mind, he said. Something different at this fourth-annual Smart Industry event. “Compared to talks I’ve had here in recent years,” he said. “There seems to be a convergence of thought. Everyone is beginning to see this journey the same way. Everyone here is taking the steps that are required. Thinking big, starting small and feeding the frenzy.”

Malkani posed questions to the audience, prompting them to take a loftier view of their motivations. What is smart manufacturing? Why do we want to democratize it? How should we democratize it?

While attendees mulled their responses, the presenter shared his own thoughts. “Smart manufacturing is all about leveraging information to make smart decisions.” He detailed how, at the core of all of these efforts is getting the right information at the right time in the right form with the right technology to the right people (or to the right machines) to enable smart decisions.

When every asset is smart

Malkani described his notion of democratizing smart manufacturing as making it for the people, by the people: “It’s getting industry to the point where every asset in every system can leverage smart elements.”

Smart is not a new approach, he noted. Control systems have been around for decades. We’ve been doing smart things with sensing for a while now. “But the big thing that has changed is our ability to connect all these things together. That’s what makes it smarter.”

And this extends beyond the hardware and software. We must democratize innovation, he stressed, getting like-minded people together to solve common problems. Make these efforts true collaborations with the right people to build an ecosystem and go after the problem. “We must also democratize knowledge, as we’re doing at conferences like this.”

Part of that process is simplifying it. Implementation should not take a year to accomplish, Malkani noted, stressing the importance of shrinking the innovation lifecycle; implementing a structured, agile R&D framework to identify manufacturing challenges; and creating an integrated smart-manufacturing innovation project team. Once an asset or process is selected as the target, this team should build a digital representation of it for training and developing solutions to common problems.

“This is the end goal of why we’re doing all of this, trying to move from being reactive to proactive,” he summarized for the audience who had been reactive to speakers and presenters for three days and, here at the conclusion of the conference, were tasked with going back to their respective companies and—proactively implementing the lessons learned.

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