How Smart Manufacturing Can Transform Our Industry

As CEO of CESMII, The Smart Manufacturing Institute, John Dyck knows the disruptive power of Smart Manufacturing: he’s seen it work across a range of industries. CESMII’s charter is to transform the US manufacturing market through the democratization of Smart Manufacturing technologies, knowledge, and business practices. It’s a mission Dyck is passionate about. He exudes optimism about a future that will see US industries like ours increase their global competitiveness and thrive.john dyck

I had the pleasure of conducting an exclusive interview with John Dyck for an episode of the Paper360° podcast, Better Together: Conversations with Innovative Leaders (see sidebar). The article here scratches the surface of our conversation and what Dyck will share with industry professionals when he serves as keynote speaker for TAPPICon 2023. With clarity and insight, Dyck explains why our industries are on the cusp of transformative development—and how Smart Manufacturing will help savvy companies take that next leap forward.

Bottiglieri: Smart manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things, Industry 4.0—these topics have become central to our industry. So how would you define smart manufacturing?

Dyck: Among all the challenges and struggles that we faced as a society during the pandemic, it did bring to light the fundamental importance of these capabilities—how important it is to invest in these areas and in people, processes, and technologies that will help make us more competitive. So, smart manufacturing is a broad umbrella for these disruptive and transformative capabilities.

Smart manufacturing is essentially the “mindset DNA” that says that digitizing our capabilities and equipping our workers with better, digitally-oriented tools is going to help us understand our manufacturing and supply chain constraints. It’s going to help us address them in much more agile and responsive ways. In many ways it’s similar to what quality and the “lean,” continuous improvement movement did three or four decades ago. Smart manufacturing, we believe, represents that “next step forward”: a mindset that’s all about equipping people, digitizing processes, and using technology to advance our competitiveness as a nation.

I remember back in the 1990s when those new management ideas were seen as the “next step”—and how they not only transformed the way people managed, but the way they thought about managing. You see a similar evolution with digital technologies?

Exactly. It needs to be that comprehensive. In this industry, the idea of “pilot purgatory” has become an unfortunate byword. We need to move the entire ecosystem forward in ways that advance the cause of digitization and smart manufacturing.

In most cases, it’s about leveraging the information that already exists for a lot of manufacturing operations—but it’s on paper somewhere. It’s about trying to simplify the workflows on the shop floor that require operators to write something down. There are inherent risks and errors in that. There is an incredible untapped level of productivity gain simply by using bias-free, human-free reporting, which is digital reporting on your manufacturing assets.

Particularly in this industry, we’ve got so much domain expertise and so many years of experience walking out of our plants every single day. Unless that expertise is captured, it’s lost forever. With the workforce challenges we see today—the incredible churn and turnover of workers—we have no choice but to make the “time to value” for a new employee as quick as possible. But we also need to provide work that new workers will enjoy and will be able to involve themselves in.

Digitization impacts every part of the organization. We think automation and digitization are about data collection, but it’s about much more than that. It’s about enabling the worker. It’s about connecting human resources with what’s happening on the shop floor. It’s about making sure you’re providing contemporary, even fun tools to help workers engage in the process of innovation, to help drive the productivity gain we’re looking for.

For pulp and paper makers, where do you see the biggest opportunities in smart manufacturing?

Well, there’s no silver bullet. Historically, in enterprise industries like pulp and paper, smart manufacturing creates a level of cost and complexity that only the biggest organizations, and the largest operations within them, can afford to deploy. What that means is, even for large organizations, the smaller operations generally don’t benefit from the kind of incredibly deep subject matter expertise and investment that the larger mills enjoy.

Think about the small and medium manufacturers in the supply network for these big organizations. I was presenting with a Procter & Gamble supply chain executive recently and they shared that, of the tens of thousands of suppliers in their manufacturing supply network, something like 90 percent are small or medium manufacturers, and very few of them have access to these smart manufacturing capabilities.

That’s why our focus at CESMII is on accelerating the democratization of smart manufacturing—working as an ecosystem to reduce cost and complexity so that not just the large manufacturers, but the small and mid-size manufacturers in the space, as well as the small and mid-size plants or operations within large corporations, can invest in and see the benefits that come from these initiatives. What is essential for this industry—and literally for every industry—is to engage: help us move this ecosystem forward, past our proprietary legacy, past our data silos and our stovepipe architectures, in ways that are much more collaborative, contemporary, and engaging for workers on the frontline.

Pulp and paper has such a long history—I think that makes it very difficult for us to turn our industry around. So how do we do that? What’s a good first step for our manufacturers?

That’s the million-dollar question. CESMII is privileged to be funded by the federal government to advance the cause of smart manufacturing and to fundamentally create a more competitive manufacturing environment here in the US. Our opportunity is to convene the brightest minds and the best ideas, then develop real solutions to these problems.

Innovation here has never been a problem. US manufacturing is the epitome of innovation. What we have struggled with since we began digitizing 30 or 40 years ago is innovation that can scale systematically. A systematic innovation allows us to bring its capabilities to the small and medium manufacturing operations as well. CESMII is focused on convening leaders in manufacturing to create a vision for how we need this ecosystem to behave. We want to collaborate, to crowdsource, to bring these important ideas to life in manufacturing operations in ways that we have neglected in the past. That’s transformative, but it’s also disruptive—and manufacturing has historically not been quick to adopt new things.

There’s that fear, right? That if we stop for a second, even if it’s to make an improvement, we will fall behind. And that fear holds us back.

That’s right. Part of how we drive this disruption and make it real is that we’ve just launched this idea of a smart manufacturing Executive Council. We’re bringing together 25 market-making brands, across all manufacturing industries, to set a great example for what smart manufacturing looks like. The legacy of proprietary ways of doing things, the level of cost and complexity in our past, is no longer acceptable; let’s work together to solve these problems.

Across the manufacturing space, we are rounding a corner where we can say, “we’re going to partner with organizations that look like this, that are open to collaborating. And over the next few years, we’re going to limit the way we work with organizations that are not engaged in these forward-looking capabilities.”

What are some ways that a company can start upping its game? What are those initial steps that managers can take, from a mill level to a corporate level?

Great question. That’s where the rubber hits the road, right? I think it starts with a really honest assessment of where your company is right now. To that end, CESMII spent a lot of money building a comprehensive assessment process that works as well for a small manufacturer as it does for a large corporation—from supply network capabilities to technology to culture and so on, through six important dimensions.

The next step is to develop a roadmap. A company may identify that one dimension is more important, and it will become evident through this assessment process which of these dimensions is the place to start. Ultimately, the company will have the right sequence of steps coming out of that assessment to say, “here’s how we accomplish our business objectives”—whether those objectives are driven by your shareholders, company leadership, your board of directors, or your marketplace. You also mentioned the growing focus in your industry on sustainability. Social governance and sustainable manufacturing have become very important; they even impact employee recruiting and retention.

These drivers don’t happen in isolation. They need to function as part of a systematic, thoughtful approach. Frankly, the way most of this deep assessment happens today is within the vendor ecosystem. Vendors are doing it because others aren’t stepping up to the table.

Within the pulp, paper, and our related industries, our vendor community is already supportive of process and product innovation—they see how much pressure is on our manufacturers regarding cost and productivity.

Absolutely—and that support will become even more essential going forward. This is a journey; once a company knows which strategic initiative to invest in around smart manufacturing, a key will be doing so in concert with its vendor ecosystem. But it helps to start with a “vendor agnostic” assessment—an unbiased organization that’s there to help develop that path forward.

Right—then even small- to medium-sized companies can get help assessing where to start with smart manufacturing. Which brings me to TAPPICon, where you’ll address attendees from both communities, and from all sizes of companies. What else might you be discussing as keynote speaker?

This is an important time in our country’s history; we are at an inflection point. We’re 11 or 12 years into the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” but we haven’t seen the value-creation that that revolution was supposed to bring about. That said, we’ve learned a lot. We’ve begun to understand the value of these transformative capabilities. The pandemic was a huge catalyst in helping us see that organizations that have already started the smart manufacturing journey fared the best.

One thing I am excited about is to articulate the hopefulness that we should be experiencing as we look to the future. The cost and complexity of these value-creation capabilities are coming down; the whole ecosystem is beginning to collaborate on solving some of our big problems; and we are helping small and medium manufacturing companies or facilities engage in this important journey.

For many manufacturers, supply chains are being regionalized. That’s going to take a while to become a reality, but manufacturing is going to be more local than it has been. This doesn’t mean all industries are going to come back to the US—that’s not going happen—but supply chain regionalization will help grow more productive, healthy, vibrant manufacturing operations here. Everything happening in this smart manufacturing arena bodes well for our ability to achieve that.