The good thing about a term like “Smart Manufacturing” is that each of us can quickly define what it means in our own mind. It's not a difficult concept. The bad thing about such a simple term is that our interpretation will be unique and not aligned with the next person's definition.
Why is this a problem?
Well, if you’re looking to find actionable steps to get “smarter” and relying on others to help, you can’t afford to waste time talking on different planes or guessing if you're on the same page with everyone else. And if you don’t already know, right now everyone is NOT on the same page.
The only way manufacturers are going to get smarter is if there's enough commonality across everyone's definition of Smart Manufacturing. I believe this won't happen without some hardcore, open dialogue that breaks down barriers to focus on a common goal.
I contend that the goal must be to put Knowledge Workers at the center of the manufacturing enterprise and empower them by leveraging advances in modern Information Technologies (IT). It’s not about systems or software, or bits or bytes, or clouds or fog. When your people, with their knowledge of your business and operational processes, are supported and empowered by advanced solutions helping them make better-informed decisions faster, then we’re on to something. If your people get smarter, your business will too, and we can improve manufacturing businesses from the inside out.
What about the technology?
Don’t systems need to connect with each other? Isn’t everything getting digitized and all of our manufacturing assets getting smarter every day? Won’t they need communications standards and business context? Of course the technical details are important, but let's not let them drive the discussion.
At MESA International, we play in the most overlooked area in the evolving “digital manufacturing” or “Smart Manufacturing” landscape – the plant/operations arena. For over 23 years, we’ve worked to help companies understand the role and value of IT-based solutions in production operations. There’s always been the promise of “shop floor-to-top floor integration” and “enterprise interoperability” and “bridging the gap” between the plants and the enterprise.
Yet, all these years later, most companies still haven’t bridged that gap or achieved their integration and interoperability goals. Why? Because we’ve been too enamored with the technology itself. We keep expecting to see major breakthroughs as these technologies develop. We haven’t learned the reality that technology needs to be the enabler, not the driver.
I believe that tomorrow’s technologies can enable smarter manufacturing – at the process level, throughout a plant, and across the enterprise. However, the focus needs to be on making the process owners smarter and on challenging them to innovate with modern-day tools. We don’t need a 21st century toolkit if it’s only going to solve 20th century challenges. We need smart people empowered to innovate and solve tomorrow’s problems today.
Do you agree that people are at the center of Smart Manufacturing? Or, do you think this is strictly a technology discussion, driven by advancing sensor technologies and analytical models? Or, is there some middle ground?
Come join me at the Smart Industry Conference in Chicago on October 5th and let’s talk about it. I'll be moderating a ‘MESA unConference’ on Smart Manufacturing, along with longtime MESA contributor David Frede, Sr. Industry Consultant, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Global Practice, at SAS. We'll share industry trends and research, and we’ll interject our own thoughts and perspectives. But, most of all, we’ll ask you what you think and let the attendees drive the discussion.
Whether you have strong opinions or more questions than answers, join our session and help shape the discussion. It’s the only way to ensure we’re digging in deeply enough and have enough unique perspectives to effectively shape the discussion going forward.
Mike Yost brings over 25 years of industrial, commercial and management experience to his role as President of MESA International, a global, not-for-profit industry association. Mr. Yost has held various leadership roles in automation and industrial software businesses, including Manufacturing Solutions Leader for GE-Intelligent Platforms’ Production Management Software business, and commercial and leadership positions with Activplant Corporation and Rockwell Automation. He has specialized in the Manufacturing Execution (MES), Manufacturing Intelligence (EMI) and Operations Management software arenas since 1999.