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Fighting Silos

Shannon Wetzel

This issue of Modern Casting, along with the supplement piece mailed with it—Automation Solutions—takes a closer look at how foundries can and are incorporating digital technology to improve their operations. One of the themes that struck me was the way automation and data can help us remove silos, yet, from an infrastructure standpoint—the industry has data silos to overcome, as well. The way data is logged or measured in one program does not match that of another program.

This issue can and is being addressed, however. Will Sobel, co-owner of Metalogi, is working on data architecture at the MTConnect Institute to create standards across Industry 4.0. Contributing author Kim Phelan spoke to Sobel for our supplement article, “The Hurdles and Horizons of Industry 4.0.” He told Phelan, “We still have the siloed mentality of how we treat information across the entire enterprise, going all the way down the supply chain. If you don’t use standards, you’re building more silos.” 

His goal is to associate all data from all process to the end product and how it works in its application. This is still a work in progress, and in the meantime, foundries who are establishing the infrastructure to collect and process data will be better prepared to launch into the next level of data communication.

For Mercury Marine, who is profiled on page 18, the challenge of digital connectivity is being met—in part—by hiring people with computer science backgrounds.

As Dave Blondheim, director of global operations excellence and advanced manufacturing at Mercury Marine put it: “The future is finding people with that cyber-physical expertise and getting them into the industry. We can teach them about foundries or machining or other processes––that’s much easier than hiring someone who knows the process but doesn’t understand the IT and analytics side of it.”

This week my daughter, who will be a freshman in the fall, made her course choices for high school next year. I had several discussions with her about her options and goals (as they are now). While reading the high school courses catalog, I was pleased to see several “pathway programs” that would start a student toward a career that met the needs of various industries—including manufacturing. And it wasn’t just STEM/engineering—although that is one of them. Among the others were advanced manufacturing, electrical technology, entrepreneurship, and computer networking.  

Increasingly, employees who know the language of computers, networks, and digitization are critical to begin breaking down the information silos and take that next leap forward in automation. 

Even with computer science experts on staff, you can’t ignore the potential for traditional silos to still wreak havoc on a company’s communication. Those working on tying all the data programs together should still be talking closely and often with the departments supplying and using the data. Mercury Marine established a “Connected Ops” team that incorporates input from subject matter experts across the company to facilitate communication and execution. 

The capabilities that Foundry 4.0 can unlock could be gamechangers for individual foundries and the industry, as a whole. To achieve that future, the age-old challenge of good communication cannot be forgotten.   

Click here to view in the February 2023 Modern Casting digital edition.