Conference Participants Discuss Manufacturing Competitiveness

At the Siemens Automation Conference in New Orleans at the end of June, executives discussed smart plants and how to handle a manufacturing renaissance.

Gary Mintchell, Founding Editor of Automation World
Gary Mintchell, Founding Editor of Automation World

Siemens may be the dominant automation supplier in Europe, but it has not been so much in America. Helmuth Ludwig’s leadership is changing the perception of Siemens over here, and its market share seems to be growing.

At the Siemens Automation Conference in New Orleans at the end of June, I got my first chance to witness how far the turnaround has come. My first meetings were with Jag Rao, who leads a new Services business unit. Its goal is to associate with customers through the business lifecycle. Rao mentioned that he was charged with bringing 22 separate service groups together under one head and then merging the cultures with the new expectations.

There are two groups in the new division. Lifecycle Services support products and help customers extract maximum value from their existing (and future) equipment. Value Services’ conversations with customers revolve around outcomes security, uptimes, reliabilities and remote services. My takeaway is that this is a great way to get closer to customers.

User Group leader Dennis Inverso, principal consultant at DuPont Engineering (www.dupont.com), set the tone for the week with a description of DuPont's Smart Plant vision. The vision begins with embedding intelligence at plant floor building into a knowledge-enabled enterprise. The point is that all business and manufacturing actions are enabled. DuPont is implementing Smart Manufacturing, Inverso said.

Manufacturing renaissance
Kicking off a panel discussion on manufacturing renaissance, Ludwig asked three questions: How do we prepare our workforce for the new era of manufacturing renaissance? How do we retain all the knowledge that exists within the company now? How do we manage through the entire product/technology lifecycle?

Raj Batra, president of the Industry Automation division for Siemens in the U.S., pointed to virtualization, lifecycle and science. Innovation is happening around the intersection points of these. “Early adopters see 50 percent reduction in time to market,” he said.

Manufacturers need to recognize that aging infrastructure is a cybersecurity risk, is hard and expensive to maintain, and is not as productive. Manufacturing needs to link to product design—to work together with product lifecycle management (PLM). “We’re doing that,” he said, “trying to make manufacturing a strategic part of an enterprise.”

Jerry Gipson, retired senior technology director for Dow Chemical (www.dow.com), pointed to a skills gap to be overcome. “We see more IT, more advanced skillsets required,” he said. “This will be achieved through education and practice. We see and hear that companies are having difficulty filling jobs, yet many people still want jobs. They may not be matched to the positions. The big takeaway is companies and industry taking more responsibility to fill these gaps. We’re seeing some improved relations with academia.”

Gipson addressed the aging infrastructure point by noting technology is not a solution; it is incorporated as part of a solution. There are both a value promise and risk management aspect. But we need to consider how to bring our solution to the business people in a context that they can understand the importance. We then must address sustainability of the solution. How do we keep it going?

“SME is working on the employee problem by encouraging ‘geek groups’ of employees to work with students,” noted Bonnie Knopf, SME board member, as well as president of Intrepid Plastics (www.intrepidplastics.com) and Intrepid Idea Innovators (i2i, www.i2i-llc.com). Companies need to pay for memberships of employees to get involved and allow them to attend trade shows and conferences to see what’s new, she added.

Germany is immersed in its Industry 4.0 initiative. Manufacturing professionals in the U.S. are beginning to discuss "Smart Manufacturing” (www.smartmanufacturingcoalition.org). I am happy to see more and more people discussing the future of manufacturing along with concrete ways to use the latest technologies to make manufacturing an essential part of the enterprise.

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