Aug 19 2015

The Post-Fourth Industrial Revolution World – Part 1

29178156_sWhile on a business trip in California, Veerle met her colleague Linda, who was wearing a silver bracelet with a spiral design that got her attention. She took a picture and posted it to her Facebook account, commented that while it was a really nice piece of artwork, her skin may be allergic to silver and so she would not be able to wear it. She then attended a business meeting on the topic of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. She did not realize at that time, but what she would soon learn will change her whole experience on her tasteful affection towards jewelry accessories.

Hype or Hope?

There have been many interpretations and messages overflowing the media about the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Depending on the agenda behind the government, technology or automation vendor, system integrator or consulting partner, the emphasis and story is different. Some of the common themes would include:

  • Integration from top floor to shop floor
  • Integration across supply chain
  • Integration between engineering, design and manufacturing
  • Shift to a service-oriented business model
  • Installation of new robots and automated equipment (digital factory)
  • Proliferation of the Internet of Things (IoT)


But weren’t we already doing all these things before someone labelled it as the Fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industrie 4.0, or any of the other names currently being used?

Is there anything truly revolutionary going on, or is this just marketing hype? Adding to the confusion is the fact that the “Industrie 4.0” terminology came from the Germany government, as an initiative to spur investment in manufacturing. Then, many other countries followed suit to start their own similar initiatives. China 2025, La Nouvelle France Industrielle, Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (US) and the Robot Revolution Initiative Council (Japan) are just a few. Each of these initiatives is backed by government resources. What is the common core concept that is driving these initiatives and their respective terminologies?

What is Different This Time?

This is not a revolution that has already happened. It is about groups of organizations putting resources to start a revolution. Many who do not understand this core concept and its endgame might easily jump to the conclusion that this is nothing more than an abstract marketing hype without any substance behind it. The truth is this revolution has been gaining momentum for quite some time, with some origins that can be traced back to 2008.

Part 2 of this article will explore the roots of today’s revolution, and will then point to the brave, new world we are now entering – with user experiences that are far beyond what exist today.


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Aug 13 2015

Is Bigger Better? How to Get More ROI on Manufacturing Machinery

The Bigger the Better How to Get More ROI on Manufacturing Machinery

Manufacturing as an industry has been growing in recent years, which can be attributed to new developments in technology. More efficient machinery, faster processing and packaging, and streamlined factories have improved manufacturing performance and capabilities, helping to simplify today’s complex production processes.

There has been a lot of pressure on companies to take stringent measures to remain competitive. One strategy is to invest in innovation. Those businesses with the most productive investments in their manufacturing machinery will outdo their counterparts. But is bigger always better? How do you know if you’re getting the best investment? How can you ensure you get the return you want on your purchases? Below are three concepts you should carefully consider as part of your evaluation on how to achieve the best return on manufacturing investment.

The Bigger the Better

I would propose to you that bigger is indeed better, at least with regards to equipment purchases and maximizing return on investment. Quite often, going big can save you more. Companies can lower their production costs immensely by acquiring larger machinery. Equipment with higher throughput not only increases output, but the cost of running such machinery over time will likely result in a lower cost per unit for a lower total cost of ownership (providing production capacity is attained or improves over time).

For instance, almost every manufacturing company needs to package their products before releasing them to the market. If the company decides to go for small handheld machines to perform this process, then it means that they would need to employ more labor to achieve the same results. Every extra labor resource that is needed to operate a small machine is an incremental expense to the company, which can eat away at profitability. A bigger machine could avoid this extra cost, save time, and likely deliver more consistent results. Look at what kind of investment you’re getting into in the beginning as well as what the long term costs are that you can save before making your final decision.

Invest in Maintenance and Repairs

Having a big machine does not guarantee better returns all the time. Remember that every time the machine is down, production ceases. It can prove difficult for a company to get production going once a machine has stopped. Downtime will also inconvenience clients, who may consider taking their orders elsewhere.

The greater investment you make in a single, larger machine means that you must also be constantly maintaining that investment. The better taken care of they are, the less expense they will require in repairs (and the better Overall Equipment Effectiveness or OEE metric you will attain). You also don’t want to skimp on repairs. Sometimes it makes sense to outsource this project to other companies like SIAT S.p.A., which can maintain machines and provide better maintenance and parts than you might be able to yourself. The cost of a fix will be a lot less than buying a whole new machine, or employing more workers to pick up the slack.

Invest in Insurance

Given most big manufacturing machinery comes at a substantial cost, which is surely felt any time the machine might need replacement, it might make sense to insure against this possible loss. Insurance policies exist that can either cover the cost of the personnel operating the machine (i.e. to pay their wages even if output is zero), or the loss of output, or both, should any accident or downtime occur. Consider investing in warranties and repair insurance to improve the way your machinery runs and that they can be repaired in any kind of situation.


The initial cost of acquiring manufacturing machines may seem overwhelming, but the benefits that follow are likely worth it. The main aim of any company is to increase profitability, which can best be achieved through maximizing efficiency, reducing general production costs, and increasing output. Make sure you maintain and insure your investments to protect your production in future.


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Aug 11 2015

Q&A with Brian Conroy, SVP and Head of Engineering and Industrial Division at IDA Ireland


Optel Vision’s EMEA operations in Limerick, Ireland, is focused on supplying automated vision inspection systems for the pharma industry worldwide.

The Manufacturing Transformation blog now has quite a history of providing articles reflecting many of the changes now occurring within the world of manufacturing. Given the highly dynamic nature of the industry, there has been no shortage of topics to discuss.

Until now, our perspective has been focused on what manufacturers must do to adapt. Today, we explore from a different viewpoint: What must countries do to help support manufacturing in their region? Given the dynamic nature of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, the sweeping changes are also impacting a country’s infrastructure – from power to communications to having an educated labor pool that can support the expansion and innovation that are now an embedded part of manufacturing operations.

I had the opportunity to speak with Brian Conroy, SVP and Head of Engineering and Industrial Division with IDA Ireland, a government agency responsible for industrial development in Ireland. Here is a link to Brian’s LinkedIn profile and here is a link to IDA Ireland’s website.

How important is manufacturing as part of the future growth plans for the Republic of Ireland?

If you drive a luxury German car, wear contact lenses, or have had a Botox treatment, you’ve had a touch point with something made in Ireland. Ireland is highly focused on developing and increasing manufacturing’s role in the country’s economy. As a result, its manufacturing sector is 50% larger than the EU average in terms of GDP percentage, and it has become one of the most globalized economies in the world. Ireland is an export oriented economy with €114bn worth of goods exported in 2014 (and a further €102bn of services). In April 2013, Ireland detailed its latest strategy to grow employment and revenues from manufacturing. The plan includes a series of goals, to increase manufacturing employment by 20 percent by 2020 by embracing the changes in automation, robotics and skills to become a global leader in manufacturing processes. In short, Ireland is looking to out-skill and out-perform other countries by increasing the number of manufacturing sites in the country.

The country’s strategy is to focus on high value, high productivity manufacturing – a clear point of differentiation for Irish manufacturing over competing countries. Foreign direct investment is an important character in the Irish story. Leading global firms such as Intel, GE, Pfizer, BASF, Stryker, St. Gobain and ITW all have significant manufacturing footprints in Ireland. These multinationals have aligned with homegrown companies such as CRH, Smurfit Kappa and Kingspan. One last important point on this topic: For every ten jobs created in manufacturing, at least seven are created elsewhere in Ireland’s economy. Broad awareness of the positive effects of manufacturing has driven public and political support for the sector.

Most people understand that a Fourth Industrial Revolution is now underway in the manufacturing sector on a global scale. How do you see that impacting investment in manufacturing in the Republic of Ireland? Are there specific areas of growth you are trying to incent?

Ireland, through its government enterprise development agencies, IDA and Enterprise Ireland, has sought to ensure the manufacturing industry is broad based. The agencies work diligently to pick those emerging sectors or industry niches in which Ireland has the best chance of securing high-value winners. PharmaChem looms large; however, engineering, medtech and information and communications technology (ICT) are increasingly important industries. R&D across these industries, including process development, continues to drive increased productivity. The Irish government supports manufacturing by providing tax credits for process development and energy efficiency equipment. This has supported the move toward automated and increasingly flexible operating environments. Most sites use Lean 6 Sigma, emphasizing the convergence automation and big data.

What industries do you see the greatest transformation on how manufacturing is executed, and how much to you see that as an impact from how factories are run vs. what end users are now demanding from the products they buy?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is revolutionizing manufacturing. Factories and plants that leverage the power of the IoT are more efficient, productive and smarter than their non-connected counterparts. This can’t happen without a robust supply of skilled and knowledgeable workers. The Irish strategy is to ensure that manufacturing firms are supported by an education system that connects companies with local universities to make sure they can access to top talent for their future needs, as well as make sure existing employees have the skills they need. Education is an area of focus and pride in Ireland, and its Institutes of Technology are consistently globally ranked. New degrees course are being launched, while older programs are being adapted to ensure graduates have the knowledge and skills needed on the factory floor over the next decade.


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Aug 06 2015

The Growing Footprint of Composite Materials in the A&D Industry

It’s an interesting concept when one thinks of composite materials. By now, you’re most likely somewhat familiar with—and may have heard about—the benefits that these combined materials, such as carbon fibers, can result in. Referred to as Carbon Fiber Reinforced Plastics (CRP), or simply “Composite” materials, this raw material has become wide-spread in civil aircraft after being used for years in the defense industry. And why not? The benefits are huge. Composite materials allow producing lightweight structures which in turn reduce fuel bills and emissions.

composite_1According to a 2014 report, Aerospace & Defense applications are now the largest consumers of carbon fiber (30% of demand) and generate 50% of global carbon fiber revenues.

Industry analysts expect an annual growth of between 8 and 13% for carbon composites revenue in the passenger aircraft segment and between 6 and 12% in the defense segment [source]. See Figure 1.





Figure 1: Development of carbon composite revenues in US$ million in A&D

New Processes, New Issues

There is a variety of processes used to manufacture composite materials:


Figure 2: CRP market share by manufacturing process (2013); view source.


Prepregs, which account for 37%, are reinforcement materials that are pre-impregnated (hence the term “prepreg”) with a resin. The prepregs are laid up by hand or machine onto a mold surface, vacuum bagged and then heated to typically 120-180°C /248-356°F.

Autoclaves and materials have a high cost, but because of the quality and lightness of the material obtained, prepeg layup with autoclave has been until now the primary choice for the Aerospace and Defense industry.

However, new materials bring new challenges. And one major challenge is the unexpected occurrence of defects during the manufacturing of these costly composite parts.

The prepregs require storage at a controlled temperature and present certain inherent problems (variability of the raw material, variability of the processing methods used for the prepreg rolls, sensitivity of the raw material to the prevailing temperature and humidity rate in the production environment, etc.).

As a result, up to 20% of the parts may exhibit defects such as porosity and delamination which, albeit invisible to the naked eye, are nonetheless present in the mass. These faults weaken the resistance of a part, and when there are too many such faults, the part is discarded. See Figure 3 as an example of a defective production process.


Figure 3: Example of delamination issue at a leading edge of a wing


Just as new materials require new production processes, so too are new IT systems required to manage the new level of complexity that is tied to this type of material – especially when faced with a 20%+ scrap rate! A great deal of production process tracking must be done to ensure each process has been completed appropriately, and accurately. And, considerable data must also be extracted to build intelligence that can help with continuous process improvement.


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Aug 04 2015

Philippe Virlouvet

Open Source in Manufacturing: Why Pay for Software?

open_source-350pxOpen source solutions are everywhere in today’s world.

Linux continues to grow as an OS alternative to Windows and other platforms, with millions of users. Hadoop developed as an open source solution for storage, and is now contending as a new operating system for the Web.

We can think of open source software as a specific type of crowd sourcing. There’s no denying the power of crowd sourcing to solve many kinds of problems. Wikipedia is a crowd-sourced, modern day version of the Library of Alexandria. Airlines use crowd sourcing (each plane in the air is a data source) to spot bad weather or turbulence and reroute flights. Just a few days ago, it was reported that a new effort to discover alien life, led by Stephen Hawking, will use open source software and crowd-sourced computing to analyze the energy signatures of millions of stars, looking for meaningful patterns.

So the question is worth asking: Does open source software have a place in manufacturing applications like MES, manufacturing intelligence or analytics? Although I work for a major software company in this space, I have to say the answer is “yes.”

There are two main advantages to open source software. The obvious is initial cost. Open source software is either free or significantly less expensive than proprietary software. Of course, any software must be supported, and there is a cost regardless what software is in question. But, certainly upfront cost could be considered an advantage.

The second advantage, however, may be even more important: open source software is almost always supported by a widespread, enthusiastic, even passionate user community. This energized user community drives innovation and improvement, and tends to put open software solutions at the cutting edge of technology and user needs.

Made for Big Data

In manufacturing, a perfect example is big data analysis. Since the advent of Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES), and even more so with Manufacturing Operations Management or MOM solutions, manufacturers have been able to capture huge amounts of data from the shop floor and supply chain from around the world. Now, enterprises want to make better use of this big data through reporting and analytics.

It turns out that open source software can provide a very good answer to this challenge. An entire open source community has developed around the challenge of pattern recognition in big data analysis, using open tools like the R scripting language. (I don’t know if the Hawking project uses R, but I wouldn’t be surprised.) R is supported by a very passionate, non-profit user community and can be downloaded for free at

In a manufacturing environment, raw machine data such as sensor time series is captured and then transmitted for analysis via OPC-UA, an open interoperability protocol. Skilled R programmers can write algorithms that can infer patterns from the data, using rules-based regression models. Pattern recognition in large data sets is a flourishing R application. It is a highly specialized area of information science with many applications that have been developed for business reporting, analyzing quality trends, predicting machine failure, and supporting continuous improvement initiatives.

A Word of Caution

There are some drawbacks to using open source. Data collection can be a problem when there are disparate systems on the manufacturing floors. It’s essential to have consistent, clean, and valid data. This need is in part what is driving adoption of global MOM platforms across operations – a shared data table leads to clean data “out-of-the-box.” Another approach is to invest in a system that centralizes, cleans, and processes the raw data. This approach, however, results in latency, additional overhead and quite often more costs. Open source analytics systems are just not going to be good at this kind of task.

Proponents of open source software are often quick to suggest it is “free,” which is certainly the case for up-front costs. However, large enterprises that rely on large, complex systems to keep operations running 24×7 simply can’t afford to have a system go down with no immediate recourse in the form of support, maintenance and other advisory services. Open source comes with a free and enthusiastic support community, but they don’t provide consultants and team members who can help deploy and maintain a critical information technology.

A Win-win Collaboration

There’s no reason why vendors can’t include open source analytics applications as part of their offering. A vendor’s MOM system can collect and ensure consistent data as a single version of the truth for the enterprise, which can then feed the data to an open-source analytics engine.

Vendors can then take advantage of cutting-edge solutions from the open source world, avoiding costly development efforts while easily keeping the solution up to date. And, users can get the institutional support they need to manage manufacturing execution, while reaping the benefits of crowd sourcing and its uniquely devoted community.

I should add, there’s another, selfish, reason for vendors to use open source. The current crop of young geniuses developing the latest open source solutions are going to be the next generation of engineers that vendors will need to hire. Those engineers will probably go to the companies that use the tools they know and love.

For both MOM vendors and manufacturing enterprises, it looks like open source software is here to stay.

In my next blog, I’ll discuss how the Internet of Things is helping to drive the open source revolution from a different direction.


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