Industry 4.0 for all: The democratization of smart manufacturing

Feb. 19, 2021

Manufacturers both small and large have faced several bumps along the road to the fourth Industrial Revolution. While we talk about Industry 4.0 and its benefits, many have found that they're stuck in pilot purgatory, unable to scale the innovations they've tested.

In this episode, Control magazine editor in chief Keith Larson speaks with John Dyck, CEO of CESMII, the Smart Manufacturing Institute, to discuss some of the persistent roadblocks to digital transformation that exist today, and how CESMII is aiming to help eliminate them, democratizing digital transformation in the process. Learn more about CESMII at 


Keith: Hello, this is Keith Larson, editor of 'Control magazine, and Welcome to this episode of our Control Amplified podcast. With me today is John Dyck, CEO of the Smart Manufacturing Institute or CESMII, a public-private partnership committed to transforming the U.S. manufacturing market and increasing global competitiveness to the application of smart manufacturing technologies.

We're here to talk today about some of the persistent roadblocks to digital transformation that exist today, especially for small to mid-sized companies, and how CESMII is aiming to help eliminate them, democratizing digital transformation in the process.

Welcome, John. It's a real pleasure to have you here today.

John: Yeah, hi Keith. Thanks for having me. It's an honor to be with you today.

Keith: Great, great. Maybe to start out, for those of our listeners who may be unfamiliar with CESMII, the Smart Manufacturing Institute, and maybe review for us how the organization was founded and how its current mission to accelerate the democratization of smart manufacturing came about.

John: Yeah, it sounds good. So, Manufacturing USA is an organization founded a number of years ago to create a number of institutes funded as private-public partnerships as you pointed out to focus on specific elements of manufacturing to create a more competitive in a more effective manufacturing environment here in the U.S. CESMII was one of those institutes founded roughly three years ago to focus on smart manufacturing, to take the ideas, the challenges, the research, the innovation, and figure out how to leverage these ideas, the ideas behind digital transformation industry 4.0, and create an environment where smart manufacturing is manufacturing by 2030.

This is an audacious goal, it's a noble goal, and I think has the potential if we can succeed, and we believe we can, to transform the face of manufacturing here in the U.S. So, we were founded, as I said, just about three years ago, by the Department of Energy. We have $140 million over the course of five years to invest in ways to transform this industry, to find existing technologies that need to be advanced, to find new technologies where they don't exist to create them and bring them to the marketplace. It's about knowledge. It's about training. It's about workforce development. And not least of all, it's about trying to create a way for an ecosystem that's steeped in doing things the way they have for many, many years, several decades, as a matter of fact, and create a new way for them to innovate and to transform their business models as well.

So, when I got here a little over two and a half years ago, we began looking at the challenges and the opportunities faced by manufacturers here in the U.S. And that included a deep look at the business models that spells success or failure for them, for the manufacturers, for the vendors in the space, the machine builders, the academic organizations that are focused on manufacturing, systems integrators, implementers. We took a step back to say, "What are the real challenges faced by manufacturing, by this ecosystem? And what are the business models that they rely on today to make money? And how can we figure out collectively to move that ecosystem forward and to adopt some of these new ideas and to leverage some much more collaborative and innovative ways to build and implement digital transformation solutions?"

We concluded that we're still firmly stuck in the third industrial revolution. We've been talking about the fourth industrial revolution for a number of years, but frankly, and I think any thoughtful look at this, would have you conclude the same thing, right? Just because we've identified industry 4.0, the fourth industrial revolution, doesn't mean that we can flip a switch and automatically just get there.

So, we believe it's essential for all manufacturers to be able to engage in digital transformation technologies and capabilities initiatives. It's important for the large manufacturers as well. Not that they don't have deep pockets and can't afford to do this, but they've been struggling for four decades now to implement these systems that are too costly and too complex even today. And so, imagine, put yourself in the shoes of a small, medium manufacturer who really has been left behind. The entire ecosystem is focused on a manufacturer that has many sites so that you can find, identify, sell to, and then deploy a solution in many sites, not just one.

So, in our analysis, nothing on the horizon is actually on a trajectory to change that. That's where we came up with our mission to truly focus on the democratization of smart manufacturing and to accelerate the democratization over the course of the next few years. What does democratization mean? It's really the idea of reducing cost and complexity of technologies and making them accessible for the masses.

We believe that this transition to the fourth industrial revolution will be characterized, among other ways, by democratization as an essential outcome. So, we've reorganized our entire effort and our roadmap and our membership model and our investments around this idea of democratization.

Keith: Gotcha. Yeah, it certainly seems like if we're going to move to the fourth industrial revolution, there needs to be, kind of, we're still operating in a more, I don't know, proprietary, non-collaborative solution set for the most part. We talk a lot about collaboration and open ecosystems, but we're not anywhere near say the IT industry is in terms of doing more collaborative integration, you know, standards making and integration. So, I think there's a long ways to go yet. It's good to hear you're behind it.

John: Yeah. Keith, I think you just stated that perfectly. I think the IT ecosystem figured this out probably 15 years ago. And they have been collaborating to solve big problems and to work in an open-source and in many ways a much more collaborative way to drive the industry forward and we haven't. Each vendor is still very much stuck in the role where, and understandably, this is how they've been making money, stuck in the role where they do everything for themselves and giving up what they perceive as competitive advantage is not in their best interests. But I think we have the opportunity to change the way they see that and actually bring them forward into a much more collaborative, democratized environment.

Keith: And I think, you know, a lot of the conversations around industry 4.0 in the industrial IoT was really what the technologies required to connect and integrate these former silos of manufacturing information had become increasingly capable and more affordable, but a lot of companies have continued to struggle even big ones, not just the small and mid-sized ones. Why is that and what really stands in their way?

John: A great question because that speaks to the heart of the challenges faced in this ecosystem and it's a nuanced issue, right? To your point, we have seen a lot of great vendors innovating. We've got the cloud now, which has dramatically reduced the barrier of entry for certain types of technology. We've got augmented reality. We've got AI and machine learning tools available and accessible. So, in many ways, we do have a new landscape of technologies that's available to us. But fundamentally, the level of interoperability between applications, and you talked about silos and the fact that, you know, with connectivity perhaps being more ubiquitous and low cost, we don't have interoperability.

We still have 100% vendor lock-in. There is no application or data interoperability. Every implementer sits down in front of their technology stack, regardless of who the vendor is, and builds everything from scratch every single time. There's no portability of any elements of that solution, the data models, the data structures, the templates for how to extract data from a device or from an asset, and certainly not the application itself. There's no portability. And that means lack of standards, right? Whether it's cause or effect, you sort of wonder sometimes, but there are no standards.

And all of this leads back to the fact that we're still using these new technologies in the industry 3.0, third industrial revolution, kind of way. The hallmark of industry 4.0 or smart manufacturing capable solution is interoperability, is openness, is secure. We will talk about these smart manufacturing first principles aggressively in the marketplace, the notion that these applications have to generate interoperability, have to be built from the ground roots as being capable of sharing data, capable of portability from one technology stack to another. And that's where we've got to go.

Keith: What steps is CESMII taking from a tangible standpoint? I know a little bit about the database model that you're trying to build. Can you maybe elaborate on that a little bit more?

John: Yeah. So, first of all, this is an ecosystem challenge. Vendors do what they're paid to do. We all have...I guess we're all coin-operated in our own ways. So, the vendors, the implementers, the machine builders, the manufacturers do what they're paid to do. And so, we have this ecosystem challenge. And there's no single vendor that can actually create the disruption required to drive the ecosystem forward. In fact, it comes back down to motivation.

So, from our standpoint, it's engaging the ecosystem at scale, engaging great thinkers, great representatives from each of these stakeholder groups, the manufacturers, the machine builders, the vendors, the systems implementers, systems integrators, and, of course, academia. So, bringing the ecosystem together is the start. And then as I said, we have the funds not just to write about or pontificate about these ideas, but to actually invest in and fund the creation of new technologies to accomplish our objectives.

So, we have the ecosystem to help us make sure we understand the right problems and think about solutions in the right ways. Then we have the funds to create and promote and deploy these systems. And then there's the idea of educating the marketplace today because of, I'll say, the state of the industry and the fact that there is no single center of gravity for these ideas, every vendor is stuck educating the marketplace and they don't want to do that. That's costly and it takes time.

And the bottom line is unless they create a more educated marketplace, their marketplace will essentially step further and further away from where they are. So educating the marketplace is a key hallmark or a key part of what we believe we have to accomplish here for the industry, whether it's the community college students, whether it's four-year academic program college students, whether it's the practitioners, the implementers, the systems integrators, or whether it's the executives that have to justify these systems and understand where the value comes from, right?

So, there's an important element of educating the marketplace to understand every facet of the life cycle of digital transformation or smart manufacturing.

And then last but not least to your earlier point, the proprietary behaviors, the sort of, "I've got to do this myself because that's the way I've always done it," that's got to move forward as well.

So, what we believe we're focused on here, as well, is this environment where real innovation can happen, where different parts of the ecosystem can get together and solve legacy challenges using new ideas and new technologies, and also where new ideas can be quickly tested. One of our great manufacturing members, Procter and Gamble, has made it clear to us that what they call innovation triage is an essential for digital transformation at scale for the industry for themselves and clearly for the broader industry.

And that means that we've gotta be able to figure out how to both quickly and cost-effectively try something new, a new vendor, together with this set of sensors or this set of control systems, and this set of robots or ATVs, this set of tools, AI machine learning, stand it up quickly, try it out, and either fail quickly or succeed quickly, and then scale up so that this environment where innovation can happen quickly and cost-effectively, and then move on.

Keith: Don't get lost in pilot purgatory if that's the term.

John: We talk all the time about the fact that innovation is really not the problem. American manufacturers have been innovative for hundreds of years. Keith, you've been around as long as I have. We've been talking about islands of automation, and then islands of information. I think for the last decade, we've been building islands of innovation. We deploy lots of smart people and straight vendor solutions and domain experts to a problem. We solve it. Everybody gets excited. And then we can't scale it because we never paid attention to these foundational elements of interoperability and scalability and security. So, you're exactly right. Innovation itself is driving pilot purgatory, which is a terrible place to be.

Keith: You talked about how, not just the education, but also actually innovating new technologies. I was reading a bit on the smart manufacturing innovation platform that is a piece of technology, not just a communications platform or a marketing message. Can you tell us a little bit more about the innovation platform and what it is and how it works?

John: Yeah, so when I talked before about not just writing about things and not just creating great guidance and best practices, which are vital and which are all important, we believe that to drive this ecosystem forward, we need to actually fill some of the gaps and create some technologies that individually the vendors that are serving this space don't have incentive to do, but if they're created, they will be able to benefit from them. And that's at the heart of this notion of our smart manufacturing innovation platform.

And under the umbrella of innovation platform, we have this actual implementation of our smart manufacturing stratification, which are open specifications that we've written as an ecosystem and have made available for the public to use and implement for their purposes. So, we actually have data ingestion and contextualization platform for vendors, for application vendors, and for manufacturers and for integrators to use as they choose to. But the most important component of all of that is this notion of sourcing domain expertise, creating a standard way to create an object definition, a class definition for any individual asset, whether it's a sensor, a piece of equipment, or a process.

Create a standard class definition for that asset in terms of defining what I need from that asset, what kind of data I need from that asset to create a desired outcome, whether it's performance, whether it's asset management, whether it's to build a predictive model for failure, for maintenance. Whatever the desired outcome is, we need a way. We need the tools, we believe, to let someone, some domain expert, whether it's the machine builder that created that robot or that paper-converting machine or whatever, work with a systems integrator that's implemented a dozen of them.

You take that domain expert, give them the tools to take what they know about how to extract important content, important data from that asset, and digitize it in a way that abstracts it from any individual vendor platform, put it in our marketplace. And now 1,000 other manufacturers that have that class of equipment can go to our marketplace, create their instance or download their instance of that profile, and it automatically knows how to connect to and extract exactly the right data from that asset.

Now, what that means is for anybody that's developing applications, they can rely on this profile and, essentially the API, a graph QL-based API, that can assemble all the different profiles that are part of that manufacturing system and develop the application against that API, not against the control layer or the automation below it. And so all of a sudden, you've got portability of asset data collection, contextualization details, and you also have the portability of the applications layer on top of that.

And so, whether you're developing applications or whether you're implementing them, you now have tools to do so, regardless of whose vendor you choose because the same profiles will work in any different vendor's ecosystem or environment that chooses to engage with us here at CESMII.

Keith: That makes a lot of sense. I understand you're working with the OPC Foundation, which is a tool that obviously is used for building those kinds of models. And they've obviously got quite a few people signed on, I think more than 800 companies, last I checked. So, there certainly seems to be a lot of momentum behind using that tool for those kinds of semantic models.

John: Yeah. That's exactly right. The expression of those information models in a standardized way, and then making them available in a standardized way. So, as you've alluded to, we've been working with the OPC Foundation. We've created a joint working group with them to develop that standard for how these profiles or data templates can be created, and how they can be made accessible in a standardized way for any vendor that chooses to leverage them. And that's really, really important work. Talk about driving critical mass for the industry and driving the adoption of what we hope will become a defacto standard. Standards in this industry as you know, Keith, are hard to come by.

Keith: We got lots of them.

John: Exactly. We got all kinds of them, right? So, you're exactly right. It's a tough environment for standards. But we believe that the adoption of these ideas to our funding and through great partners like OPC Foundation and even a spark plug on the MQTT side, we can drive these ideas forward as a broad ecosystem and accelerate the adoption of them that way.

Keith: A lot of the tenets that are behind the CESMII remind me a lot of what the Open Process Automation Forum is doing on the process industry side, more of the DCS companies, the process manufacturing side, they've got their own full-pass connectivity framework that sounds a little bit like the innovation platform in terms of the standard. How is it similar to what you're doing with CESMII and the innovation platform or it may be different? But interoperability is obviously a core thing for them as well. So maybe talk about how you're like or different from what they're doing.

John: Yeah, I think you're exactly right. In fact, ExxonMobil is one of the founding members of the Open Automation Forum and they’re a great member of ours here. For the same reasons, the reason you just articulated, right, openness, interoperability, reducing cost and complexity of the technologies, and of the sort of accessibility of these capabilities across the ecosystem that's central to OPAC and central to our success. And really, I think we're just now beginning to define those synergies between CESMII's approach and the Open Process Automation Forum. But they're built on the premise that a similar set of promises where the Open Process Automation Forum is focused on interoperability at the automation and controls layer and process-related software solutions.

We believe we can bolt on in a very synergistic way with our information models to complement their control and automation models. So, in many ways, we can leverage the work that both organizations are doing to extend our efforts in the direction that each organization is focused on because, like I said, their  relentless focus is on interoperability at the control systems layer, on the data layer. We're very much sort of the complement to that on the information side.

Keith: So, a little more on the MES level of where you are versus more real-time deterministic kind of things.

John: That's exactly it. If we're looking at sort of the traditional Purdue model would be typically level three and above. So yeah, whatever the software capability or whatever the market capability you would put in that level three to level four space, that's pretty much where I think most smart manufacturing, most digital transformation efforts are focused.

Keith: No, that makes sense. What do you think it's gonna take to get some of the large companies, the Rockwells, and the Emersons in the world where, you know, they may not have that much to gain from a business perspective? How do you get them to move on to this more collaborative type of platform? What are your thoughts in terms of to get some of the market leaders from a vendor perspective to pursue a more open and interoperable platform?

John: Yeah, that's a great question. We're proud to say that many of the big vendors are here. And we're seeing that accelerate, the adoption of CESMII ideas and technologies accelerate, including great vendors like Emerson and Honeywell, Aspen Tech, so on and so forth. But it comes down to something we touched on before Keith, the notion that they are coin operated and shareholders were being coin operated, right? And so, the onus is on us to be able to demonstrate to them that the rising tide truly does float all boats. It's not just that we're creating an environment for...that'll make the manufacturers better by reducing the cost and complexity of deploying technologies, which makes it more accessible for smaller and smaller plants, and global rollouts, and so on and so forth.

It has to be better for the vendors. It has to be better for the implementers and for the machine builders. So, it's incumbent upon us to demonstrate that. We're not here to compete with them. We're not a competitor. We'll be successful when, as I said, the entire ecosystem improves and when we've actually demonstrated that we're able to reduce the cost of acquisition, the cost of ownership, and, in fact, the cost of ownership across the entire life cycle of an application's existence, or of a digital transformation initiative.

So frankly, that is what we're focused on right now. We've been bringing the ecosystem together. We have great manufacturers here, like, as I alluded to, Proctor & Gamble and ExxonMobil, General Mills, and Monash, and Johnson & Johnson, and Corning, and many others. They're here helping us ensure that we're doing the right things. But we also have dozens of some of the great vendors here, one of the more recent ones being Inductive Automation aligned around these ideas, right?

So, this is about driving critical mass in an industry that's been doing things in a specific way for decades, but we're also using this rapidly-growing ecosystem of members here at CESMII to provide and demonstrate the incentives for their vendor partners, for their vendor integrators to come alongside and be part of this. Because as we all know, the disruption that happens when you transition from the third industrial revolution to the fourth, as it did for the first to the second and second to the third, will be disruptive. And those that refuse to adapt and to change and to grow, we'll leave them behind.

And so, we believe we have an opportunity to demonstrate that there's value here for them and that's going to be a very practical test. At the end of the day, will this drive the accelerated deployment of solutions for the vendor? Will this enable a systems integrator to make more money? Will this allow a manufacturer to deploy more systems in a more standardized way and reduce their cost of ownership across many years for these systems? And that's the ultimate test for CESMII and that's how we will measure our success.

Keith: Yeah. It certainly seems like potential to be a rising tide for all those boats. That's for sure.

John: Yeah. You bet.

Keith: If somebody, if one of our listeners, either from the end-user side, engineering firm side, or from the aspect of even the solution providers, if they want to get more involved and learn more about what you're doing with the innovation platform and what's behind CESMII, or even joining the organization, what are recommended next steps for them if they want to learn more and get involved?

John: Yeah. So, first of all, membership here at CESMII, we're a private-public partnership, which means that we're a membership-based organization. We have a tremendous...we represent tremendous value for each of those different sets of stakeholders that I just articulated. And we can have this conversation with you very directly about what this means for you, what the value is of you as a stakeholder in this process and this transformation truly is.

So, if you come to our website,, look for what it means to be a member. It's not going to break the bank for you to join us here. We have great opportunities to provide projects, grants and funding for our members. And that's a big part of how we drive return on investment, very creative and I think very thoughtful ways to allow us to fund your innovation, allow us to fund the deployment of your technologies in a manufacturing setting that you may not have had access to otherwise.

And as I mentioned before, this whole notion of rapid innovation through innovation triage, all of that is what we can fund here through the funding that we bring to the marketplace and driving this industry forward using these ways. So, visit us at Request a contact from us and we'll be very quick and very eager to have this conversation with you and help you understand what it means to join us here as part of this movement.

Keith: Great. Well, I certainly wish you all the luck in bringing this forward, and obviously, we'll try to do our part in spreading the word out to our readership as well. So, thank you very much, John, for sharing your insights with us today.

John: Thank you, Keith. We appreciate the ability to partner with you and your organization in this way. It's a privilege to be on this journey with you and work with you to drive this ecosystem forward.

Keith: We are all together in this, aren't we? For those of you listening, thanks to you all for tuning in. Again, I'm Keith Larson, and you've been listening to Control Amplified' podcast. Thanks for joining us. And if you enjoyed this episode, you can subscribe at the iTunes Store and the Google podcasts, plus you can find the full archive of past episodes at Signing off until next time. Take care.

For more, tune into Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

About the Author

Control Amplified: | Control Amplified: The Process Automation Podcast

The Control Amplified Podcast offers in-depth interviews and discussions with industry experts about important topics in the process control and automation field, and goes beyond Control's print and online coverage to explore underlying issues affecting users, system integrators, suppliers and others in these industries.

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