Inside the Journey to Smart Manufacturing

At The Automation Conference 2015, Jim Wetzel of General Mills explained the company’s 20-plus year journey to smart manufacturing, how it remains a work in process, and the lessons learned that can also be applied to small and medium-sized manufacturing operations.

With all the talk about the Industrial Internet of Things and Industry 4.0, it’s easy to get caught up in thinking these are fresh new ideas for industry. The reality is that these concepts have been in development through application in industry for decades.

Explaining how Smart Manufacturing concepts that leverage many of the technologies and concepts associated with the Industrial Internet of Things have been deployed at General Mills, Jim Wetzel, director of global reliability, shares his insights on a process that began back in 1993 with a company initiative to network all devices. The next steps in that process involved installing and gradually expanding MES at all plant locations, merging IS and engineering groups, and deploying manufacturing intelligence, all of which lead to ultimately adopting the use of Cloud Computing, traceability functions, supplier-managed inventory and visualization.

A video combining the audio portion of Wetzel’s presentation with his slides presented at The Automation Conference 2015 can be accessed below.

A key aspect of Wetzel’s presentation is the explanation of how General Mills accomplished this by working with the “ecosystem of stuff” that all manufacturers have, i.e., a conglomeration of automation technologies from different suppliers. His insights in this area in particular—with an eye on the business goals of improving sustainability, productivity, innovation and customer service—showcase how the process followed at General Mills is applicable to all production-focused companies.

Following his explanation of General Mills’ journey toward Smart Manufacturing, Wetzel details the purpose of the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (a group for which he serves as chairman) and explains how that group is designed to help manufacturing companies of all sizes leverage the lessons of Smart Manufacturing that companies like General Mills have helped pioneer.

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