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An Interview with Thorsten Wuest

by | Oct 28, 2021 | Interviews,

Thorsten Wuest

Thorsten Wuest

Associate Professor at West Virginia University
Key Topics:Smart Manufacturing; Digital Supply Networks; Digital Transformation; AI; Machine Learning; Manufacturing Systems
Location:Morgantown, WV, USA
Thorsten Wuest is an associate professor at West Virginia University and globally recognized as one of SME’s 20 most influential professors in smart manufacturing. Dr. Wuest has co-authored 3 books and more than 150 papers gathering over 4,000 citations to date. He received multiple awards incl. an outstanding teacher, SME Journal Award, and multiple best paper awards. He leads several federal research grants from NSF, NIST, DoE, TJF, etc., and serves as Vice-Chair Americas for IFIP WG 5.7, Editorial Board for JMSY, Associate Editor for SSMS and IJMR, and the advisory boards of Maven Machines, Veepio, Sustainment, and WVU Industrial Extension.

How did you get to become an expert in your key topics?

Looking back my journey almost seems straightforward, but honestly, it was more explorative. Serving as an officer in the army I was put in charge of leading a platoon at a very young age and was involved in logistics. After completing my service, picking up my studies in industrial engineering was probably the foundation for where I am now.
During my program, I took advantage of the freedom afforded to me and completed a master’s degree in international business in New Zealand, worked for a management consultancy in Switzerland optimizing one of the country’s largest logistics provider’s processes, and conducted research at the research center for ThyssenKrupp technologies on raw materials supply chains. This sparked my interest in exploring new ideas and solving complex problems – hence, pursuing a Ph.D. while working as a research scientist was a logical choice. With stints as a guest researcher at USC and many projects, I completed my Ph.D. focusing on supervised machine learning in manufacturing systems – a timely topic that remains to be highly relevant. Starting a tenure track faculty at West Virginia University enabled me to combine my experience from the European setting with the innovative environment of a US R1 institution.
My lab is conducting state of the art research funded by a variety of federal agencies and industrial partners on topics ranging from hybrid analytics to AI-driven digital twins. Always interested in grounding our work in industrial problems, I serve on the board of multiple companies and startups, both to disseminate our research and to learn myself.

What sub-topics are you most passionate about?

The essential role of humans within our future smart manufacturing systems. I strongly believe that the opportunities afforded by digital smart technologies allow us to free the operator from dark, dirty, and dangerous tasks (and the equivalent for mental work leading to stress, boredom, burnout, etc. ) and allow us to focus on human ingenuity, problem-solving, and creativity to push the boundaries of what is thought possible.

Another topic I am very passionate about is how to support small- and medium-sized manufacturers in their quest towards adopting smart manufacturing. Without the massive (IT and financial) resources of large organizations, these companies need solutions with lower barriers and clear ROIs to help them overcome the new ‘digital divide’ and remain competitive. This is ever more important as 99% of the 291K manufacturers in the US have fewer than 500 employees. Virtually every supply chain depends on small- and medium-sized enterprises and thus it is of vital importance as a nation to support them remain competitive.

Who influences you within these topics?

I believe I am very much at the pulse of these topics due to my vast and global network of leading researchers in academia and industry. Serving as an associate editor at leading scientific journals provides a timely perspective on hot topics in my field as well. Furthermore, as a member of the editorial team of the yearly world manufacturing report provides ample opportunity to shape the field, learn from experts from academia, government, and industry, and in the end shape the conversation.

What challenges are brands facing in this space?

If brands mean manufacturing companies in this context, we live in a crucial time that will define one competitive standing for years to come. Digital transformation is here to stay and companies need to embrace it or be left behind.

What do you think the future holds in this space?

This field developed with even more pace and we see tremendous development across a variety of topics. If I have to pick one, I’d say sustainability and how we can embrace all three aspects – social, economic, and environmental – within the frame of the ongoing digital transformation will be crucial moving forward.

What brands are leading the way in this space?

Sustainability is a topic that has been ‘around for a while and many brands/companies publish sustainability reports. However, moving forward, that is not enough – embracing the challenge holistically and actually overcoming the notion of it being ‘a challenge’ and treating it as an opportunity will differentiate winners from losers.

If a brand wanted to work with you, which activities would you be most interested in collaborating on?

I am fairly open to working with companies and other organizations as long as there is a mutual benefit and value. I have engaged with podcasts, webinars, whitepapers, as well as a keynote speaker at events or in more intimate internal training. Happy to discuss this with an open mind.

What are your passions outside of work?

First and foremost my two amazing children! And growing up in Germany this may come as a surprise but I do thoroughly enjoy collegiate sports, namely football and basketball – Let’s Go, Mountaineers!

What would be the best way for a brand to contact you?

By Email.

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