The Challenges of Smart Manufacturing

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association aims to address some of the problem areas of smart manufacturing—such as implementation, fitting different technologies together, and achieving full benefits—through their new comprehensive model.

John Clemons, MESA Marketing, Committee Chair
John Clemons, MESA Marketing, Committee Chair

Everyone in the manufacturing world is talking about smart manufacturing. There’s lot of new technology coming together in different ways to create AI (artificial intelligence) solutions, digital twins, digital threads, the Industrial Internet of Things, augmented reality/virtual reality solutions, and a whole lot more. All this smart technology, along with lots of smart people, are creating the fourth industrial revolution and transforming manufacturing back into an economic powerhouse.

But, with all this technology coming together, everyone seems to be looking at it from their own points of view. This means there are lots of challenges out there with lots of people not sure how all the technologies fit together. Or how all these technologies achieve the benefits everyone claims.

In addition to all the new technologies, tough market conditions are driving companies to think differently about their manufacturing operations. Maybe for the first time ever, C-suite executives are starting to understand the deep importance of their manufacturing operations and are developing new and exciting visions for the future, all built on smart manufacturing.

Most people are convinced we’re in the midst of the fourth industrial revolution, but the story of the revolution is still being written. We’re barely in the first chapter. That means the size and the impact of the fourth industrial revolution are still up to us. The challenge is to add even more power to the revolution to ensure that its impact is global, substantial, and long-lasting.

But the problem space of smart manufacturing is way too big to be easily understood. The many facets to each issue make it almost impossible for one person to grasp them all. People need to understand the big picture of smart manufacturing and specifically the context for any kind of initiative they’re undertaking. The challenge is to assess their efforts and better understand their priorities, to create a more unified approach and direction for them, since all of smart manufacturing is so intertwined.

The bottom line is that people are just overwhelmed. There’s no framework, no common language, and no common baseline of understanding. This makes it hard to talk about things logically and especially hard to talk with people in other disciplines. 

It’s like the parable about the blind men and the elephant. Each man described the small part of the elephant that they touched, but none of them could see the whole elephant. That’s smart manufacturing in a nutshell.

It appears to be just a vast state of turbulence out there, with smart manufacturing in its infancy, and everyone using a different model. MESA International, the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association, is cutting through all this fluff to provide a comprehensive smart manufacturing model that people can actually use to understand what it’s all about.

The new MESA model is going to provide a fundamentally new way of looking at the problem space to make sure you don’t miss anything. It’s intended to cover everything you need to be concerned with in the smart manufacturing space. It will help people decide what to do by helping them ask the hard questions as well as determine if they really have the answers they need.

The original MESA MES model has been used by just about everyone in the MES space around the world since it was created. The intention at MESA is to build a model for smart manufacturing that will be used by everyone. It will help people communicate across diverse disciplines. It will provide alignment with business strategy, connect business and manufacturing processes, and link people across the entire enterprise. Our goal is to ensure that it will be pragmatic and extremely helpful to everybody.

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