Manufacturing Leaders Step Up

The March issue of Automation World, particularly my editorial, “The Third Wave of Manufacturing”, and the feature article, “Sustainability Leads To Next-generation Manufacturing”, drew several comments.

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The idea of thinking seriously about the next iteration of manufacturing and the role sustainability plays in it had already drawn the attention of industry chief executive officers and manufacturing thought leaders. It’s refreshing to learn about fresh thinking.

Within minutes of learning about the articles, corporate communications from Rockwell Automation sent me several interesting items. Sometimes, a CEO speech is overt salesmanship, but other times, it points to larger social needs. The first item in the message was a speech by Rockwell Automation CEO Keith Nosbusch reflecting his linking to a larger social need—that of revitalizing U.S. manufacturing. The second pointed to efforts of a large team of thinkers and practitioners who have released the first of an anticipated many reports on Smart Process Manufacturing. The session on this topic at the ARC Forum in Orlando in February was one I really wanted to attend, but I was not able to because of many conflicting meetings.

Nosbusch issued a call to the Obama administration to not only double funding for research and development (R&D) in general, but to especially make “smart manufacturing” a top priority and to double federally funded support for manufacturing innovation. He also suggested starting with a $2 billion public-private partnership program to develop smart, safe and sustainable manufacturing, expanding federal R&D tax credits to include investments in advanced technologies that automate and modernize facilities, and offsetting the 17 percent cost disadvantage that U.S. manufacturers face by doing business in America (figures according to the National Association of Manufacturers).

An industry-academic team held a workshop to develop a framework for Smart Process Manufacturing. Details can be found on the Web at www.oit.ucla.edu/nsf-evo-2008/. The group has evolved into the Smart Process Manufacturing Engineering Virtual Organization Steering Committee. The group is seeking a new breakthrough for economic viability, sustainability, energy reduction and zero environmental, health and safety incidents. It defines SPM as a dramatically intensified, knowledge-enabled industrial enterprise in which ALL business and operating actions are executed to achieve substantially enhanced energy, sustainability, environmental, safety and economic performance.

Disruptive information

Further, the group notes, “SPM is the disruptive/breakthrough use of information technology to apply knowledge to reduce energy consumption, make operations sustainable, drive toward zero environmental, health and safety incidents, and produce dramatically more competitive industrial sectors. The challenge of this game-changing transformation for energy-intensive industrial sectors is enormous. There is a need to coalesce these industrial companies, universities and government agencies to foster synergistic action, focus and stimulate investments in applied research on real-world problems and to address barriers of risk and incentives.”

The group sees the solution to the many challenges of manufacturing and production to be found in “a quantum change in the application and intrinsic assimilation of a model-based, knowledge-enabled environment that addresses a full spectrum of enterprise product, operational and management life cycles.”

These areas of focus have been the foundation areas for Automation World since we launched seven years ago. We have found and reported on many efforts by suppliers and practitioners moving toward these goals of the SPM. I’m glad to see concentrated effort by industry leaders. This is the right area of focus. We need to join this movement.

There is one amplification I need to make from a comment I made in my February editorial, “Engineers Help Weather the Storm”, about leaders of the Automation Federation lobbying Congress. It is a 501(c)3 corporation and hence “advocates,” not lobbies.

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