The future of smart manufacturing: Think local, think small

In this Big Picture Interview, José Rivera explores how collaborative team approaches help companies compete globally.

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José Rivera took the helm of the Control System Integrators Association (CSIA) in March. The new CEO, previously a senior vice president at Schneider Electric in France, has big plans for CSIA in the next year, including the launch of integration best-practices training in Mexico. It’s a momentous time for American manufacturing, he says, and organizations’ success will depend on how quickly and adeptly they adopt the technology and lean strategies that can help them operate more efficiently and attract tech-savvy talent. For more, watch our video interview with Rivera at

PS: You're new this year to the role of CEO at CSIA. How have things been going, and what are you looking forward to with CSIA heading into 2016?

JR: 2015 will be recorded as a year of transition. Bob Lowe, who was my predecessor, had been there for quite a while, and I came in with a slightly different organization. Our association keeps on growing. We want to leverage our brand in a big way and make it more relevant. I think that our association is one of the few places where you have system integrators coming together, and that is of huge value for the automation vendors, who try to find partners for the delivery of solutions to their clients. But it's also for end users that want some sort of a seal of approval, if you will, and with our certification, that's what we provide for the quality of the system integration work to be done.

The other part that is important for us will be leveraging our brand and taking it abroad. Today we have 91 members outside the U.S., and we have been trying to expand abroad. We have been putting effort before my time into Latin America, and what I am doing is I refocusing it to be mostly Mexico. I have (traveled) there for a whole week, and we are trying to set up quarterly events, which is something that we don't do in the U.S. We're doing that together with partners; we're trying to create the environment that we have here, which is an environment of trust and collaboration. We don't have that there yet. We do have two members that are certified in Mexico and the numbers are continuing to grow, but we need to create this environment to get going and deliver more over there. If we can get that model going, we can replicate it in other parts (of the world). Because it's not that easy to just take the model that has been successful here and assume it's going to work exactly the same way when you take it abroad. Some elements will be different. And this thing of quarterly events, it's something that we're testing.

I think that the other area where we are putting a lot of effort is in training, and this is training for our members. So, best practices in, say, project management—this is one of the trainings that we have been asked to provide. But also for system integrators that are part of the network of the automation vendor partners, and they want to have best-practices training. We're putting one together right now for Mexico, for one of our big partners. This will be a three-day training with an instructor. This same partner, they are now talking about doing it in other parts of the world. And we want to leverage this for all of the system integrators in that country or region.

PS: How will that training be structured?

JR: Normally what we do is we pick some parts of the best practices. Our best practices are written as a series of questions—"Do you have the team?" "Do you have the processes?" These types of things. You cannot read it like a novel. You read it one question at a time and then you get going in terms of thinking about what it is you have as a company. The way our instructors have been doing it is they supplement the dryness of the manual with some simulated cases. They have some cases presented to them and then they have to get in teams and try to come up with answers, or they have a discussion about the current state of their particular company, and they share that with the group. This is where a lot of the learning happens.

PS: Why was Mexico chosen in particular as a focus? Was it proximity? Familiarity with the market?

JR: In the case of Latin America, (Mexico) was selected because of proximity, not only geographical but also cultural. We have a lot of American companies with a very strong presence down in the region. And within Latin America, (with respect to) questions about Mexico, Brazil and a couple of other places, Mexico seemed to be the better choice at least for now. We all know about the issues going on with the economy in Brazil, and that also would have been a bit harder for us because of the language, Portuguese vs. Spanish. I think it was not a very tough decision. Mexico is a big market; it's close.

I was at the MESA conference earlier this year, and there was a presentation by Cessna. They do not just bits and pieces; they are now going to be manufacturing an entire plane in Mexico. It's no longer that factories that are just set up (there) because of cheap labor; these plants are brand-new plants with all of the technology. It's a big departure from the past. These are world-class factories set up in Mexico and other parts of Latin America. Panduit has a big factory in Costa Rica, and that one is also state-of-the-art. Intel has a presence there, and places like Amazon have customer centers there.

PS: We hear about how evolving technologies and smart manufacturing are poised to transform the production landscape—resulting in reshoring, the construction of smaller-footprint plants in urban centers, etc. Do you see an accelerated rate of change for the industry, and if so, where and how do you expect to see that reflected?

JR: I think there are forces that will drive reshoring—like the technology of 3D printing. If that becomes more of a critical component of the economy, you will have a disruption in the way we are building things. You no longer have to rely on cheap offshore sites to manufacture things; you can do it locally, much closer to your customers. And then you can include so much more customization. That's why proximity makes much more of a difference. Some of these things exist already, but you will see them in much more strength.

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