Starting Your Journey to Smart Manufacturing
What is Smart manufacturing?
Smart manufacturing is the business, technology, infrastructure, and workforce practice of optimizing manufacturing through the use of engineered systems that integrate operational technologies and information technologies (OT/IT), according to CESMII.*
Only recently all the ingredients to enable smart manufacturing has come together, namely massive computing power with inexpensive Industrial Internet of Things devices. Collectively, this has led to the breakdown of the old wall between the role of plant floor operations and management and enables the right information and right technology to be available at the right time and in the right form to the right people, powering smart decision-making within factories and across entire value chains. All of a sudden, those who embrace smart manufacturing will operate more efficiently and more productively, making the factory and the firm more competitive.
What should I do next?
Smart manufacturing is not rocket science. Based on my experience implementing multiple projects in this space, here are some basic guidelines that I hope will help you speed up your journey and avoid pitfalls.
Carefully consider the Impact on your people – Educate and mentor to gain buy-in
The fear of machines replacing people goes back a century or more. It was famously and humorously captured by Charlie Chaplin in the movie classic ‘Modern Times’ in which ever-increasing manufacturing efficiencies create nightmare working conditions and eventually to job elimination. In our customer projects, we learned to meet with employees at all levels of the organization to make the case that smart manufacturing, using the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), will empower them to eliminate painful quality and productivity issues – in short, to make their lives better. It is natural for them to be suspicious and fear that the new technology is used to spy on them. Thus, it is best to address these issues head-on by demonstrating that individuals are not being monitored and that smart manufacturing outputs will never be used in a punitive manner or disciplinary action. By embracing the right approach, changes can be adopted and everyone will gain from the increased productivity level.
Start your smart manufacturing journey small – Land and then expand
It is not a minor decision as to where and how to begin the smart manufacturing journey. A common-sense approach is to start small initially, but pick a project that is critical to the organization and one that will serve as a proof-of-concept. Look for a project that can show results fairly quickly and remember all eyes will be on the project – both the supporters and skeptics. Ideally, your initial effort should be able to leverage your existing manufacturing systems and should not be in conflict with them.
The initiative must start and be guided by your leadership
Change management is never easy. Smart manufacturing may start small but will eventually transform many organizations in very dramatic ways. The old adage is true that top management support is very important for the success of any initiative. In the case of smart manufacturing, it is even more essential. We have found that initial smart manufacturing projects, no matter how small initially, will quickly stir up interest in other areas of the organization. The fear-of-missing-out (FOMO) phenomena take hold followed by requests from other areas of the organization to begin their own smart manufacturing initiatives. So why is top management support essential? Without a holistic and long-term view of an organization’s leadership, smart manufacturing can degenerate into a series of isolated pockets of innovation. Only with top management support and guidance can smart manufacturing efforts be properly missioned, prioritized and funded.
Smart manufacturing is coming. Those who do not understand or embrace it may have a harder time to catch-up in the future. I hope you find these guidelines helpful and look forward to hearing about your story in this journey.
*Clean Energy Smart Manufacturing Innovation Institute, CESMII-roadmap