I traveled for most of the last third of the year talking with industry executives, going to meetings and listening to presentations. One observation stands out: The coming convergence of functions within manufacturing and production.
One of the first areas of convergence that companies worked on was getting IT and engineering to play nicely together. Whether the function is process engineer, control engineer or automation engineer, it now requires deeper knowledge of and skills in IT. These professionals need to be comfortable with networking and servers, not to mention conversant with security and virtualization.
At one time, operations went its own way and maintenance and reliability were often orphans. Now, professionals in all departments are expected to work together. People may fill roles in more than one area. Engineers are almost part of the maintenance team in some factories. Operators may double as first-line maintenance workers. All of them may share space in operations control rooms.
Technology is the key
What’s the key? Technology. Powerful analytics and intelligence software sort through manufacturing “big data,” providing situational information to the correct person in a format they can use: console, tablet or smartphone.
I witnessed an example of this trend at the December meeting of the Center for Intelligent Maintenance Systems in Ann Arbor. Fifteen years ago, the Center’s engineering Ph.D. candidate researchers were working on advanced condition monitoring. This work culminated several years ago in some code called the Watchdog Agent that incorporates algorithms derived from the research.
This year’s topics incorporated maintenance, of course, but many of the projects touched on areas that help operations as well as maintenance. They discussed big data, analytics, cloud technologies, smartphone apps and situational data delivery, among other topics. Really branching out.
Technology requires data, but technology for manufacturing and production requires data with specific attributes. The week I’m writing this, I’ve attended two organization meetings where dedicated engineering and IT professionals are working on specifications for defining the data attributes and for defining data flow and workflow. One group, MIMOSA (www.mimosa.org), is concerned with physical assets from design to operate and maintain. The other is the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (smartmanufacturing
coalition.org) that is working on the manufacturing side.
Another key is organizational. Strong plant management is required to bring the different, often bickering, groups together for the good of the organization. Only by forging a cohesive plant-management team focused on operating a profitable plant can the company and each person succeed.
Those two trends are the reason I started The Manufacturing Connection, as well as the reason I’m moving to develop new branding for Maintenance Technology magazine by adding the emphasis on Asset Performance (not just asset availability or uptime or asset utilization). “Throughput” sums up the winning formula for the plant team.
I joined the Maintenance Technology team a little late to be able to put as much new emphasis on our conference—MARTS (www.martsconference.com)—as I would have liked. But the team has taken up the challenge of assembling a conference that takes a fresh look at the needs of plant professionals. Our goal is to go beyond just another maintenance-and-reliability conference in order to provide the educational and networking environment where the plant-management team learns the skills for success.
I welcome ideas and feedback. You can send an email, DM me on Twitter @garymintchell, message me on LinkedIn or check out the Maintenance Technology group on LinkedIn and send a note there. MT&AP