Thursday, October 3, 2013

Keep ignoring the elephant in the room...

Recently, I was invited to participate in the panel on the topic of “Smart Manufacturing” organized by NIST and APMS 2013 Conference (Advances in Production Management Systems).  Many panel participants were from the SMLC (Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition) – “a non-profit organization committed to overcome barriers to the development and deployment of Smart Manufacturing (SM) Systems through an implementation agenda for building a scaled, shared infrastructure called the Smart Manufacturing Platform (SM Platform)”.
The invitation was an honor, as it allowed the opportunity to learn and share our vision for Intelligent Manufacturing.  I spent some time preparing by reading available material on Smart Manufacturing, SMLC and APMS. Three words jump at me as I was reading – “Cloud”, “Platform” and “Workflow”. Savigent is a provider of a Platform for the Manufacturing Operations Management and our Platform includes a Workflow Engine and Workflow Development infrastructure. We also designed our platform to support various deployment scenarios, including cloud. At the first glance SMLC was talking about exactly the same driving vision as Savigent for the last 15 years – Platform, Components, Workflows, Models, etc.
As I kept reading, my excitement was very quickly cooled by lack of relevance of the SMLC actual vision and the real world. There was nothing addressing Level 3 activities! (Enter the Elephant). The comments that I encountered during my reading echoed:  “It is too difficult and complex…”
I agree, yes, it is! However, it will not get easier nor go away.  That complexity will always be a part of any manufacturing enterprise and it requires new paradigm to design, build, test, deploy and manage systems. Beyond this, a level of maturity and commitment from the customer is needed to be successful.
Manufacturers need to keep pace with the customer demand for decreased product release cycle. The question of how to introduce and absorb timely operational system changes without significant errors becomes critical. We need “Smart Manufacturing“ to enable decisions in a complex, high volume manufacturing environment.  In the manufacturing enterprise, different components of the operational system are architected, developed, managed and used by multitude of users in different roles, all with different goals, needs, views, and skills. Enabling agility to support continuous change while delivering high quality operational systems requires purposely designed Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) Platform.
“Smart Manufacturing” is not simply a protocol or data model problem – the realities dictate that whatever standard is selected, new technologies will arrive, outdating a standard.  
It is our opinion that “Smart Manufacturing” Platform should include support for IO and system integration, process workflow, complex event processing, “Big Data Historian”, all while providing development and management tools that support frequent changes as part of continuous improvement initiatives.  These development and management tools should also accommodate different levels of user expertise, enhancing developers’ productivity and lowering the complexity bar for non-developers. It is also critical to accommodate variety of IT deployment scenarios from a dedicated appliance to a private/public cloud. 

Purposely designed “Smart Manufacturing” Platform is the key to unleashing efficiency and ensuring effectiveness. “Smart Manufacturing” is a requirement to enable Predictive Space – Predictive Maintenance, Virtual Metrology, Predictive Analytics, Dynamic Sampling and next generation of advanced analysis techniques to find the ‘’hidden signatures’’.
Need is pushing early adopters into the space already. Their lessons are invaluable to help others to follow. “Smart Manufacturing” is not an application, it is a platform to enable decisions in a complex, high volume manufacturing environment and it requires organizational maturity to recognize and embrace the elephant in the room.