Smart manufacturing: What if they threw a revolution and nobody came?

Let’s face it: The majority of manufacturing organizations just isn’t realizing the promises of “smart manufacturing.” We aren’t seeing the improved productivity, optimized production, higher levels of safety, enhanced security, accelerated decision-making, reduced regulatory effort or faster market response times that current technology enables.

06/09/2016



Let’s face it: The promises of “smart manufacturing” just aren’t being realized by the majority of manufacturing organizations. For the most part, we aren’t seeing the improved productivity, optimized production, higher levels of safety, enhanced security, accelerated decision-making, reduced regulatory effort or faster market response times that current technology enables. 

The benefits of smart manufacturing are not phantasms—they are very real. Many large manufacturers in automotive, food and beverage, consumer goods, aerospace and other industry sectors can testify to their success from implementing these techniques. But a vast majority of enterprises are small to midsized businesses (SMB) and they perceive significant barriers to applying new technologies that some of their larger contemporaries have resources to overcome.

It isn’t unusual to find an organization with less than 100 employees that has no formal information technology (IT) group. The application support they require is provided by third parties and knowledgeable internal staff. You’ll hear things like “Dave is our IT department” or “Mike is just a whiz with Excel.” These organizations are able to function successfully with IT point solutions, using applications like spreadsheets and personal databases to integrate point solutions into an end-to-end system. Even though it is inefficient, this unfettered pragmatism works well enough to enable them to compete in the marketplace.

Courtesy: CFE Media

Just as with IT, many smaller manufacturers also have no formal automation group. They rely on their machine builders and system integrators to provide PLC/PAC programming, supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems and other operational technology. You won’t usually find things like ISA88, PLCOpen, or B2MML specified by these companies. Again, pragmatism is the key driver in the requirements presented to third-party solution providers. If you ask them what standards they demand in the systems in which they invest, the response is typically, “Whatever the integrator decides is necessary.” Why would system integrators adopt ISA/IEC/ISO  automation standards if their clients aren’t insisting they be used?

So here’s the situation in which most manufacturers (more than 95 percent of all manufacturers are SMBs) find themselves: IT investments that were not strategically managed and legacy automation systems that were built to no consistent standards. (SMBs shouldn’t get too distressed by this statement—many of your larger competitors are in the same boat in spite of having full-fledged IT and automation departments). Now read the stories of smart manufacturing through the eyes of an engineer or manager in one of these companies. Connected enterprise? IT/OT Convergence? Service-oriented architecture? Industrial Internet of Things? None of these seem applicable to their day-to-day operations. Is it any wonder the usual response is, “You can’t get there from here”?

SMBs have one great advantage over larger manufacturers: they can be extremely agile. What may at first be perceived as a barrier may in fact turn into a competitive advantage—with the proper direction. Larger companies have a great deal more inertia than smaller ones: more machines, more legacy and more politics. SMBs can quickly navigate around impediments if the benefits justify the effort. What’s missing from the big picture, though, is a discussion of the “on ramp” for SMBs—how do they engage with the technologies that enable smart manufacturing—given their current state, competitive position and available resources?

Smart-manufacturing initiatives have the support of governments worldwide, are discussed by multiple industry organizations and are finding their way into the curricula of universities globally. But unless small- to midsized manufacturers figure out how to join the party, there will be a lot of leftover pizza.

—Patrick Weber is a MESA International Technical and Education Committee member and MESA-recognized practitioner. This article originally appeared on MESA’s blog. MESA is a CFE Media content partner. Edited by Erin Dunne, production coordinator, CFE Media, edunne@cfemedia.com.



Top Plant
The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America.
Product of the Year
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
System Integrator of the Year
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
June 2018
2018 Lubrication Guide, Motor and maintenance management, Control system migration
May 2018
Electrical standards, robots and Lean manufacturing, and how an aluminum packaging plant is helping community growth.
April 2018
2017 Product of the Year winners, retrofitting a press, IMTS and Hannover Messe preview, natural refrigerants, testing steam traps
June 2018
Machine learning, produced water benefits, programming cavity pumps
April 2018
ROVs, rigs, and the real time; wellsite valve manifolds; AI on a chip; analytics use for pipelines
February 2018
Focus on power systems, process safety, electrical and power systems, edge computing in the oil & gas industry
Spring 2018
Burners for heat-treating furnaces, CHP, dryers, gas humidification, and more
April 2018
Implementing a DCS, stepper motors, intelligent motion control, remote monitoring of irrigation systems
February 2018
Setting internal automation standards

Annual Salary Survey

After two years of economic concerns, manufacturing leaders once again have homed in on the single biggest issue facing their operations:

It's the workers—or more specifically, the lack of workers.

The 2017 Plant Engineering Salary Survey looks at not just what plant managers make, but what they think. As they look across their plants today, plant managers say they don’t have the operational depth to take on the new technologies and new challenges of global manufacturing.

Read more: 2017 Salary Survey

The Maintenance and Reliability Coach's blog
Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
One Voice for Manufacturing
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Maintenance and Reliability Professionals Blog
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Machine Safety
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
Research Analyst Blog
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Marshall on Maintenance
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
Lachance on CMMS
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
Electrical Safety Update
This digital report explains how plant engineers need to take greater care when it comes to electrical safety incidents on the plant floor.
Maintenance & Safety
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
IIoT: Machines, Equipment, & Asset Management
Articles in this digital report highlight technologies that enable Industrial Internet of Things, IIoT-related products and strategies.
Randy Steele
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Matthew J. Woo, PE, RCDD, LEED AP BD+C
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Randy Oliver
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
Data Centers: Impacts of Climate and Cooling Technology
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
Safety First: Arc Flash 101
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
Critical Power: Hospital Electrical Systems
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me