JUL-AUG 2018

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INTECH JULY/AUGUST 2018 33 AUTOMATION IT Their survey found that 43 percent of respondents see smart manufacturing as an extension of their continuous im- provement/innovation/lean initiatives, while 24 percent view it as a transfor- mation strategy or new business model. A third of respondents said that it was not clearly one or the other. For MESA's part, it is choosing to let in- dustry tell what smart manufacturing is. However, even as Clemons and Yost as- sert they have been doing smart manu- facturing—i.e., they have been connect- ing machines and gathering data from them for decades—they recognize smart manufacturing as disruptive innovation. "This is the biggest catalyst for new possibilities that I've seen in my 30 years in manufacturing," Yost says. Though it is in some ways an extension of business as usual—the next step in continuous improvement or evolution of MES, "It's the opportunity to achieve a quantum leap." The big caution, he advises, is to avoid the hype that is associated with the idea of smart manufacturing and taking that quantum leap: "If you don't know how to buy this stuff, if you don't know how to talk with vendors about what your business plans are and how to align the technologies to what your needs are, you're going to be pulled toward that shiny new coin, the shiny object, and you're going to be disappointed." Understanding MES and smart manufacturing Critical to understanding MES' role— or any other technology's role—in smart manufacturing, is that none of them are commodities. They cannot simply be plugged into an existing pro - cess to get immediate benefits—or, for that matter, to get them to work at all. This is especially true about MES, according to Clemons. "MES is one of those solutions that you only get out of it what you put into it," he says. "If you think you're going to take deliv- ery of MES and all your problems will be solved, that's not going to happen. That's a recipe for disaster." He adds, "You've got to understand your operations; you've got to figure out what you need and the way you need to do it. If you're not doing it right, then dropping MES or anything else on top of it isn't going to make it better; it's probably going to make it worse." It turns out, Clemons says, asserting MESA's long held point of view, that the adoption of MES or smart manufactur- ing is not as much about the technology as it is about people. It is not about fig- uring out what technologies to use and integrate. Rather it is about thinking through how your operation works and how to align people and technologies with that to achieve increasingly better results. That means the obstacles to imple- menting MES or any smart manufac- turing solution reside in the people, not the technology. "Manufacturers aren't used to buying technology solutions like this that aren't necessarily capi- tal focused," Yost asserts. "So you can end up where the quality department will buy a quality solution; the mainte- nance department will buy a mainte- nance solution—the buying behaviors are set up in a very siloed way." This tra- ditional way of operating as buyers and sellers causes difficulties in investing in solutions that, by definition, are about integrating and connecting across functional boundaries. "Somebody has to be committed to saying, 'we're going to stop this fight,'" Yost says. "We're going to agree on met- rics; we're going to adjust the way we pay people, so they don't have an in- centive to protect 'their' data and met- rics. We're going to be this boundary- less, tech-savvy organization." This "people problem" extends to what has become known as the "IT-OT disconnect," which sums up the diffi - culty manufacturers have had in deter- mining which group of professionals should lead their smart manufacturing initiatives. To this, Yost asserts MESA's view that the functional leaders who run your facilities—quality and main- tenance leaders and plant managers— must be integral to the effort. "Taking those manufacturing people out of smart manufacturing decisions, that's a death knell," Yost says. "We need to address those issues of how we work together, and how we work in our own departments, buy things and plan for technology," he adds. "You can't let the technology be the driver. The technologies are getting more and more capable all the time, but they still have to be the servants to the business lead- ers and business drivers." That said, manufacturers need tech- nology solutions to facilitate the gather- ing and analysis of data, and "MES—or at least elements of it—is that founda- tional solution, that core piece of the so- lution, whether it's called MES or not," Yost says. He acknowledges that some people would argue they do not need an MES as part of their smart manufac- turing initiative, but counters that those people "are probably putting systems in place that we at MESA would put under an umbrella as being MES." As real-time data collection, integra- tion, and analysis continue to become more critical to manufacturing busi- ness success, MES continues to evolve to address the challenge—and to be- come more integral to an overall smart manufacturing transformation. Capa- bilities like MES in the cloud, MES as service, and mobile MES are becoming standard. ID technologies—whether 2D or 3D bar codes, RFID, or GPS—are coming together as part of MES solu- tions. Likewise, sensors are becoming smart devices, further expanding capa- bilities and benefits of MES and help- ing manufacturing operations become more responsive to the marketplace and to the business. Put simply: MES has become a foundational element of smart manu - facturing. Virgin Orbit—or any com- pany—cannot create its digital thread or complete its smart manufacturing transformation without it. All of this leads Clemons to con- clude, "The state of MES is better than it has ever been, and I think the next 20 years are going to be pretty spectacular for MES." n ABOUT THE AUTHOR Patricia Panchak (ppanchak@roadrunner. com), a MESA contributing writer, is an independent business and technology journalist, editor, and public speaker. View the online version at

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