Setting Up for Smart Manufacturing Success

Aug. 16, 2017
If the promise of IIoT, machine learning and cloud-based mobile applications is to make it easier than ever to see data from the plant floor, adjust production and manage operations, how do you ensure that a project will be a success?

There’s a lot of buzz in the industry right now—like nothing I’ve seen in a quarter century of working in this field. The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) combined with machine learning and cloud-based mobile features promise to remake the landscape in terms of manufacturing optimization and flexibility. If you’re like me, you probably feel excited thinking about the possibilities of applying all these new technologies in your plant.

Unlike technology, which is constantly changing, one of the things that never seems to change is that the people who pay for the technology want to see results. Moreover, their definition of success isn’t necessarily the same as an engineer’s. Often, the things that make someone from operations, quality, material management or maintenance happy are not the same as what satisfies a technologist, and they might even be different than what a technology vendor implies are the most important factors for success. All we need do is look around our plants and we can see evidence of this; for as many technology projects that worked in our plants, there are plenty of projects that did not work out for various reasons. These include failed overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) pilot projects, quality assurance (QA) data collection and reporting pilots that the operators found too complex or difficult to use, automated performance scoreboards that nobody looks at, and even those data collection servers that are collecting astronomical quantities of data that go largely unused.

So, if the promise of all these newer technologies is to make it easier than ever to see data from the plant floor, adjust production and manage operations, how do you ensure that a project using these technologies will be a success? Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is to use tried-and-true methods.

Begin with the goal in mind

Business owners don’t generally make investments in manufacturing systems because they like technology; rather, they put money into the business to get more money out. Therefore, the first and most important step is to understand, document and agree on the business goals of a smart manufacturing initiative. These business goals are normally aligned with corporate strategy around growth, cost savings, quality, regulatory compliance or new product introduction. Once the business goals are documented, all technology requirements should be linked back to them. Any other requirements for your project don’t actually matter.

Who’s to judge?

Once you understand and have documented the business goals, you then know who is judging the system for success, and the yardstick by which it is to be judged. Those same stakeholders often are responsible for the people who will ultimately use the system. It is important to document their requirements clearly and objectively, with no bias from technological solutions. Once this is done, you’ll have defined what the stakeholders actually need from a system in order to judge it a success. But how do you align that with what’s available in the marketplace?

The answer is to employ the standards that embody the decades of experience earned by those who have moved information between the business and the plant floor successfully. For manufacturing, one of the most important standards is ISA95. Using this standard and its equipment, data hierarchy, activity and capability models allows you to organize the requirements in a way that will facilitate the selection of the appropriate technology and the system design that is most likely to succeed.

Form follows function

The next step is to create functional requirements defining the system’s behavior, so you’ll know how to implement the technology. Done correctly, these requirements will link back to the user requirements, and will permit you as the system designer to focus on the things that are important without being distracted by exciting, yet less valuable features and capabilities. Ultimately, it also permits a sober evaluation of the technology options available in the marketplace.

Plan all, start small

In case you’re thinking this all seems like a lot of work, consider the cost of not planning it out. Do you want your next project to join the ranks of the failed technology pilots that have gone before, or do you want it to be viewed as a success? Do you want to make a difference to your organization? It doesn’t have to be a slow or long process—it just needs to involve the right people, with the right focus, and follow the right standards. The idea is to plan it all at the high level, and then take small steps to implement capabilities that hit the mark.

Where to begin?

MESA International has been working for decades to uncover, explain and promote the use of meaningful standards and processes that enable success in plant floor to enterprise systems. The MESA resource library includes many helpful resources explaining standards such as ISA95, application case studies, product surveys and whitepapers, as well as powerful guidebooks on a variety of topics, including return on investment (ROI), strategic initiatives and others. MESA has also been working hard to bring together the experts in the industry, to the benefit of all of its members. If you are not a member of MESA International, consider joining and participating today.

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>>Jim Toman is an active member of MESA International, participating in the Technical Committee and serving as vice chairman of the Americas Board of Directors. For more than two decades, he has been at the forefront of analyzing, specifying, developing and standardizing innovative IT solutions for manufacturers. From defining early data-driven automated distribution systems to helping shape the requirements for modern MES, he has brought value in diverse industries in both discrete and process manufacturing environments. Toman also works as director of the smart manufacturing practice at Grantek.

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