Expert Advice for Next-Gen Manufacturing

March 1, 2006
Automation, flexibility and optimization will define the factory of the future. So said presenters at the ARC Forum, held last month in Orlando, where “Next Generation Manufacturing” was the topic.

Speaking on the first day of the Forum were executives from leading supplier companies—such as ABB, Emerson, GE Fanuc, Honeywell, Invensys, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens and Yokogawa—who were each joined by one of their major end-user customers. The executive gave a brief portfolio overview; his customer presented insight into how the vendor’s solution delivered a benefit.

It was a high-wattage gathering of who’s who in the automation industry. Here are my top ten take-aways.

Tip 1: Move from a “report” mentality to a “data analysis” mentality.—Bob Wojewodka, Lubrizol

Wojewodka increased profitability at Lubrizol, maker of additives, by training teams on the economics of applying automation to analyze results, not just generate more data. “People aren’t resistant to change, they just need to understand the benefits of the change.”

Tip 2: Tightly control and reduce manual activity.—Paul Greene, Pfizer

The return-on-investment window on new drugs is constantly shrinking, says Greene, who notes that manufacturers must carefully balance standards with innovation, and, where possible, automate even those operations that fall outside of typical control systems.

Tip 3: Automate like a Class A company.—Hans Koning-Bastiaan, Genentech

Koning-Bastiaan says biotech firm Genentech was a “Class C” company in automating its business processes, but it actually performed at a “Class A” level. “To do that, everyone had to work too hard.” In its new facility that makes cancer-fighting drugs, Genentech applied manufacturing execution system (MES) solutions to reduce errors, ensure safety and comply with regulations.

Tip 4: Integrate the business office with production operations.—Bernd Amrhein, RohMax

In a four-year project for its oil additives plants, RohMax overhauled its complex batch processing control operations, and deployed an MES solution to tightly integrate production with its SAP enterprise system for bidirectional, paperless communications.

Tip 5: Pay attention to safety; it pays.—Greg Daniels, Nissan

Says Daniels, “By focusing on safety, we improved uptime and moral, increased productivity and decreased costs—which led to increased flexibility.” Nissan reduced worker injuries and compensation payments by more than 50 percent over a three-year period.

Tip 6: Move from “black box” controls to distributed, agile controls.—Paul Allinson, Chevron

Allinson cites oil industry challenges—global supply and demand shifts, alternate feed stocks, new fuel technologies—as drivers for more flexible, optimized controls that are tied to real-time business centers.

Tip 7: Ask yourself, “Does our facility run at optimal business performance?”—Apostolos Georgiou, ExxonMobil

“When management asked me that question, it took me two to three years to give them an answer. And my answer was—no!” Georgiou notes that, in the past, refineries ran fixed throughput, regardless of feed stock quality or varying market prices

Tip 8: Put the right molecule in the right place at the right time.—Apostolos Georgiou

As part of its real-time optimization practices, ExxonMobil manages a complex set of variables with economic trade-offs. The company runs at optimal performance by bringing the right material to the right refinery, and refining it in the most profitable way.

Tip 9: Develop collaborative, long-term relationships with key suppliers.—Steve Deschamps, Nova Chemicals

“I believe collaborative relationships result in shared vision, trust, conflict resolution and communications.”

Tip 10: Innovate through strategic partnerships.—Dr. Harry Kolar, IBM

For its 300-millimeter wafer fab facility in East Fishkill, N.Y., IBM partnered with an automation vendor to develop innovative sensor domain expertise that it expects to leverage across the semiconductor industry.