Welcome to the future of manufacturing

What does the future of manufacturing look like? In June, I attended co-located events in Detroit, both produced by SME. The Big M Event (bigmevent.com) and Rapid 2014 (rapid.sme.org) were two different paths headed to the same destination, where data enables more efficient and more profitable manufacturing. While Rapid 2014 centered around the additive manufacturing and 3D scanning technologies, Big M focused much more on advancements in data sharing and connectivity.

SME President Michael Molnar, whom we interviewed when he took the helm (www.plantservices.com/multimedia/2014/engineering-is-a-team-sport/), expressed the excitement of the event in his opening remarks.

One of the more interesting sessions I attended included a panel of speakers who discussed the evolving role of information in manufacturing and how the ability to share it without restrictions completely changes the traditional relationship of productivity and data.

“The barrier between the silos is no longer an excuse because the information's on a server on the network,” said Jay Monahan, SAP director, Dell (www.dell.com). “Apps and mobile apps are more like a commodity play. The idea is to make it easier for employees to do their jobs. If you can think about it, you can do it — for example, if I want to do a production schedule quickly on an app.”

Design and manufacturing are converging and integrating, said Bryan Dods, executive, manufacturing technology for global supply chain, GE Power and Water (www.ge.com). “We have all the major CAD players, and there are so many smaller software companies,” he explained. “It's breaking down barriers. But we have responsibility. These software tools aren't usable out of the box, unless you configure them and build a database behind them. With access from cell phones or workstations, they're getting the most up-to-date information. That's the world where we're going. We're building these databases and this connectivity.”

Almost 80% of software revenue comes from the United States, pointed out Helmuth Ludwig, CEO Siemens Industry Sector USA (www.siemens.com). “We’re bringing together the virtual world of simulation with the real world of manufacturing,” he said. “There's a machinery company. They brought the virtual to the machine level. Now they has a virtual representation of the machine and can work on the virtual model with the same CNC controller that they use on the machine. Instead of 8-9 hours of changeover, it's only 5-6. By bringing virtual and real world together, you can cut time.”

Network protocols have been stagnant for 15-20 years, but it’s changing rapidly now, explained Josh Davids, CEO, Scytec (www.scytec.com). “There's always been a brick wall between design and manufacturing,” he said. “Where is the check in saying what really did happen? Having the data in real time and comparing those in real time to see if you're not meeting the expectation is monstrous — to be able to act on that in the middle, adjust in real time, rather than wait until it's over. To be able to store and access it and put it out on the shop floor so operators can see the information and see the expectations aren't being met, to give it a dollar value — that helps to bring the brick wall down.”

There are a lot of smart people on the plant floor, explained Monahan. “A lot of times, the best thing you can do is listen and be quiet,” he said. “If you step back and listen to experience, you can learn a lot and give them the ability to enable a solution. OEE is a great tool set, but different companies define OEE differently. Once they understand the business rules, once you define the metrics and have commonality, you show the operator and supervisor what they need to do to move the levers to change the number.”

Dods dreams of self-forming supply chains. “OEMs should have visibility into the supply chain's MES,” he suggested. “There are huge trust issues to overcome. Very few suppliers have the ability to supply one component on their own. In the grand scheme, I'd like to see that kind of productivity.”

Change is already here, explained Ludwig. And how do you get the right capabilities into manufacturing? “Most of the new people are comfortable with data,” he said. “We talk about the right competencies. Skills gap says you're 17 years old, so we have a challenge. The training gap says we're a company, so we have a challenge. We have to make manufacturing more attractive to the younger generation. We have to consistently support open standards. It makes it so much easier for companies to exchange data files in a simple fashion. And for cybersecurity, every chain is only as strong as its weakest link.”

Everyone here has a smartphone, asserted Davids. “You can instantly check your email or the scores from last night,” he said. “How many of you can check the status of your machines right now? Probably a small percentage. Why don't we expect it from our machines? That's the way the trends are going. Give it a couple of ways, thinking about manufacturing data will be similar to the way we think about being able to check our emails or the status of our flights. You won't be able to imagine not having access to that information.”

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