The manufacturing ecosystem is changing at a rapid pace. Just when you thought technology couldn’t become more entrenched in our lives, machines have started talking to their managers. Imagine this: As a manufacturing engineer, you’re enjoying a night out with your family, waiting for your child’s piano recital to start when you start to receive a barrage of text messages — from the machines at work. A glitch has activated sensors in those machines, which has prompted the texts. You step outside for a few minutes, open your iPad where an app gives you all of the details of what’s happening at the facility and the ability to get the machines up and running quickly and accurately. With everything running smoothly again, you make it back to your seat in time for your child’s rendition of Beethoven’s 5th without having to drive to work and back, fidget with the machines or call in coworkers.
While the Industrial Revolution saw us move from hand to machine production, the modern revolution is seeing a recalling of manufacturing jobs from overseas to the U.S. and using new, efficient technologies to streamline production. With the accessibility of cloud computing, a lowered cost of electronic sensors, microprocessors and other tools that make machines more adept, and advances in communication technology, manufacturing processes are more alive than ever before.
In November, General Electric CEO, Jeff Immelt told a large crowd at a kickoff event for the GE report Industrial Internet: Pushing the Boundaries of Minds and Machines that, “The productivity era is alive and well. Industrial companies, not just GE, but all industrial companies are no longer just about the big iron,” he said. “All of us are going to seek to interface with the analytics, the data, the software that surround our products … This is today,” he added. “This is not about any future. The industry is moving forward.”
Machines can now collect data without the help of humans, allowing managers and engineers to receive instant alerts about problems or to study that data in order to craft new ways to boost performance and output. For example, a company that produces a personal care product can generate 5,000 data samples every 33 milliseconds, resulting in 152,000 samples per second, or 13 billion samples per day, 4 trillion samples per year. The potential for understanding your production and output is endless.
This “smart factory” trend stands to overhaul everything we know about the traditional manufacturing model and it’s been available on a smaller scale for several years in cars using Automatic (How is your engine running?), washing machines like Samsung’s Smart Washer (Is that washing cycle done?), and even our homes through Twine (Is my basement flooded?). With this new “machine to machine” communications revolution, most jobs won’t be on the factory floor but rather in nearby offices where designers, logistics experts, marketing staff, IT specialists, engineers and others will be watching on computer screens as manufacturing becomes more efficient, costs decrease and output increases. When your engineers and specialists are out on the floor or at a meeting, being able to make split decisions through their iPad or smartphone means a mobile workforce that is available to ensure your output is never in danger.
The change to industrial internet marks a unique modification to the industrial labor force, moving from hundreds of laborers on the factory floor to individuals with more advanced degrees manning smart devices off-site and in off-floor offices. One thing is for sure – this new industrial revolution is catching up with the way people have been living for the past decade and poised to help push the industry forward and help bring overseas projects back to America.