Nov 04 2014

Driverless Vehicles Driving Manufacturing – Part 1

autonomous driving carsI just read an interesting announcement on autonomous connected vehicles. Dassault Systèmes and AKKA Technologies have announced a long-term partnership aimed at promoting innovation in the self-driving connected vehicle market. Their plan is to offer high-end engineering services and solutions to help the global automotive industry.

Interestingly, Tesla Motors recently unveiled new automated driving assists in their Model S luxury electric cars. Think auto-pilot rather than autonomous as driver input is still required to get from point A to point B. According to CEO Elon Musk, the systems use radar, sonar and cameras to navigate around obstacles and traffic signals.

Here is a video highlighting this recent announcement:

As the idea of everyone using driverless vehicles to get around gets more popular, the automotive manufacturing industry has to adapt in response.

In light of this news, it’s interesting to take a look at how vehicles today rely on electronics, and how this will increase with driverless vehicles.

Vehicles today have a far greater level of complexity than ever before. They have a tremendous amount of electronics in them already—and not just the infotainment system. We’re talking about everything from sensors in the brakes, in the wheel hubs, to engine modules, to the radar buried up in the grill for collision avoidance.

There is already a tremendous amount of technology in vehicles today. But this is going to take complexity to a whole new level – starting with new product introduction and continuing through the lifecycle of these vehicles. There will be even more control modules doing many more complex processes within the vehicle. Think about tuning up a car in the old days – it was primarily focused on just mechanical things. Tuning up a car today requires a computer doing an extensive diagnostic, with hundreds of potential “fix it” codes tied to various systems that might need adjustment. There’s nothing mechanical about it. A good laptop is more important to a tune-up than a wrench today!

Manufacturing Complexity

The manufacturing industry must ready itself to support a new level of synchronization across these complex systems. Not only must new driverless systems be integrated into design, engineering and manufacturing requiring considerably more details and coordination across the vehicle, but the potential for “error” now carries with it far greater risk. One can only imagine the headlines when the first auto-pilot or autonomous vehicle is involved in an accident.

In other words, manufacturers need to accept a much greater responsibility to synchronize the right control modules with the right programming to the right vehicle based on what the customer ordered. Unlike putting a wheel on the vehicle, you can’t visually tell the difference in option programming between one control module and another, so there has to be a far greater level of synchronization and control in the core code. Identifying option programming within the manufacturing Bill of Material (BOM) is the most obvious way to handle this. Then, you will have to be able to validate test results against expected results based on the BOM selections.

In my next post, I’ll explore this topic a bit further, taking a look at the safety implications as well as the customer acceptance challenges that lie ahead, before self-driving cars actually become a part of our future.


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Oct 30 2014

IoT and Energy Efficiency Spur Automation Investments – with MOM in the Middle

manufacturing_industry_growthListen up manufacturing executives, time to loosen up the budget belts because your plant managers are getting ready for a spending spree. Two separate industry analyst reports indicate that operational investments are on the rise mainly due to global build out, the pressure to create energy-efficient sustainable businesses, and the proliferation of the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT).

According to ARC Advisory Group, the total global investment in manufacturing will experience a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4% through the year 2050. While all investment eyes are focusing on future technology, it also requires a second look at existing plant floor platforms like manufacturing execution systems (MES). Historically, manufacturers have used Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES) to manage the production workflow on the factory floor. Moving forward, there is a need to upgrade to an agile and enterprise-enabled manufacturing operations management (MOM) system that will ease the expense and the overall risk associated with managing new application inter-dependencies.

ARC predicts worldwide growth in industrial investments through 2050 will have a lot to do with the need for resource management solutions and big data-based “information-driven manufacturing,” which the analyst firm defines as the ability to automatically aggregate and analyze data from multiple plants. To that end, “All industries will continue to increase investment in advanced solutions for processing, including energy management, quality management, and supply chain management,” according to ARC’s report, The Future of Manufacturing: Scenarios for Investment in Manufacturing through 2050.

Similarly, Frost & Sullivan’s 2013 Global Automation Market Factbook indicates there are a number of additional forces at work that are contributing to a new wave of spending, including: rising capital investments in both process and discrete industries, a workforce skills gap, global competition, and the convergence of operational technologies and IT. Collectively, these business trends will influence – and boost – the overall global automation market moving forward.

Meanwhile, at the heart of many of these investments is manufacturing operations management.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The next big shift in manufacturing leverages sensors and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology connected directly or via the “cloud” as part of the Internet of Things (IoT) movement. This Fourth Industrial Revolution, will shift production from a centralized factory control system managed by human operators to a decentralized intelligent ecosystem in which machines and tools communicate amongst each other and to their corresponding applications without any human intervention.

Many of today’s MOM systems are already intertwined with energy management, quality control, the supply chain and even Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) systemes. But the MOM of the future must also be able to capture the M2M conversations traversing the network in order to automatically act on the information exchanged. They must also be able to share that data across the global organization.

The bottom line is, even as the analyst groups encourage investments in sustainability solutions, big data, and IoT, they are actually saying—without saying—that MOM will be a very important technology in the future. In fact, the ARC report notes that the number one operational technology investment for the efficiency-driven economies of Latin America and the Middle East will be manufacturing operations management. MOM ranks as the number two technology purchase in factor-driven economies (Africa and emerging Asia), and is in the top 10 technologies to invest in for the innovation driven economies (Europe, North America, developed Asia).

Ultimately, despite the trend, be it influenced by the economy, a skills shortage, or innovation-driven, having the right MOM will make most difference to manufacturers by the year 2050.


If you liked this article, here are other Manufacturing Transformation posts you might also enjoy:


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Oct 28 2014

The Factory of Things: How Manufacturers Can Harness Mobile Technology

Modern communication technologyCompanies around the world are increasingly applying mobile technology to achieve unique ends. Manufacturing companies, for instance, are leading the way in utilizing mobile technology to improve safety and efficiency. Wireless technology connections in worldwide factories are estimated to increase from 2.1 million connections to 3.4 million connections by 2017, according to a report from IHS Technology. Here are just some of the many ways that mobile technology can impact manufacturing processes, improve safety and promote efficiency.

On the Floor

Floor managers and employees in factory shops now use a slew of mobile devices and custom apps to monitor production and factory efficiency. One of the biggest advantages of a mobile device is that it allows workers to move around the floor while referencing manufacturers’ documents, contacting other employees and communicating with off-site personnel. The improvement in efficiency may seem small at first, but a study by Wipro points out that even a ten minute reduction in time spent on tasks can result in a 2.5 percent productivity increase. These minutes add up over time and can save manufacturing businesses large sums of money by the end of a single year of mobile adoption.

Safety in a factory environment is often reliant on engineers and workers having up-to-the-minute data to make adjustment decisions. Mobile devices allow engineers to access this information, which is normally confined to a desktop-based control room, from anywhere on the factory floor in real time, which ensures they have the most accurate information to work with. Mobile devices also allow factories to achieve real time tracing for critical materials that require extra levels of safety.

The Factory of Things

The idea of an Internet of things refers to the increasing level of connectivity that everyday devices in our lives now possess after all, we live in a time of Bluetooth refrigerators that can stream music. So, it’s only logical that manufacturing companies would take advantage of this connectivity. Connected devices stream information and allow manufacturers to react reflexively to shifts in the market, thus increasing efficiency. The factory of things also means that even forklifts can be mobile ready, allowing floor managers to control their access to tools, resources and inventory on the fly.

A cottage industry of manufacturing-specific mobile apps has sprung up because more and more manufacturing companies are adopting mobile technologies. Some of these mobile apps can govern every process a manufacturer must attend to from inventory transactional information to warehouse control and field repair.


As mobile technology continues to pervade factory floors, it is important that companies embrace mobile device management policies that are right for them. Consulting with your IT, legal and human resources departments regarding bring your own device policies and whether they are right for your business is a critical step. This ensures that any mobile devices intended for use are easy to understand and have set guidelines. If a company has an appropriate department internally, developing mobile apps in-house is always preferable to purchasing off-the-shelf apps, as they can be better tailored to your specific needs.


If you liked this article, then here are other Manufacturing Transformation posts on similar topics:

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Oct 22 2014

3 Technologies Transforming the Manufacturing Industry

early_robotAt this point, there’s hardly an industry in existence that has not been dramatically transformed by technology. Everything from education to music to mass media is different because of technological advances, many of which have occurred only in the past quarter century.

Manufacturing is an industry that seems to be one of the most impacted by the tech revolution. In fact, our industrial revolution predecessors would probably hardly recognize today’s assembly line. And, their jaws would hit the floor if they were to behold the efficiency, speed and uniformity with which we’re able to make things today.

All of this change has been brought about by a few key technologies.


1. Robotics

When the layman thinks of manufacturing, he probably thinks of an assembly line made up of humans, each handling one part of the assembly process. This is still how some factories function, but many of those humans are being replaced by robots … no, not the kind that walk and talk, but the ones that can do automated manufacturing work that’s perfect all day, every day.

Automated robotics came on the scene in 1961 in the form of Unimate, a robotic arm that assisted General Motors in rolling automobiles out to a car-crazed country. Though it looks a bit primitive to us now, Unimate was a huge development for manufacturing at the time – it was immune from all the issues that make human beings fallible, inconsistent and unreliable.

Sure, it wasn’t perfect for every step of the process, but it was ideal for the many unskilled, repetitive tasks that needed to be done hundreds or thousands of times a day. Though robots can’t make decisions, use creativity or adapt to changes, in the right context, they can more than double a factory’s efficiency and greatly increase its consistency in output and quality.


2. 3-D Printing

To many people, 3-D printing still seems like something out of a science fiction movie – telling a machine to make you a bowl or a brick or a table and then having that thing pop out fully made is pretty incredible, no matter who you are. And although the technology used to be more about wowing us in its ability to shoot out a blue plastic elephant, now 3-D printing is being seriously implemented in manufacturing in a great many industries.

In the last year, we’ve seen the technology used to print artificial human body parts, rocket components, engine blocks and even entire homes. The incorporation of 3-D printing in manufacturing is not a thing of the distant future; it’s happening now. Change is currently underway, but you can safely expect that that change will only grow exponentially over the next decade.

The very existence of a huge factory made up of various assembly lines, laborers and robots may be an antiquated notion sooner than later. Design has gone almost fully digitized already, but the physical implementation of those designs will likely soon go the same way, so that making anything from a pair of shoes to a car will be entirely digital – from conception to creation.


3. CO2 Snow Cleaning

Cleaning would be a whole lot easier if it wasn’t for that pesky water, right? In the manufacturing process, cleaning is required in several steps – unfortunately, most methods of cleaning are messy, hazardous, inefficient, and far too rough for many delicate parts.

Enter CO2 snow cleaning, a waterless cleaning method that successfully eliminates those issues that complicate precision manufacturing in industries like data storage, automotive, and medical device. Recycled liquid dry CO2 drawn from a source expands to form “snow” particles that are forced through a nozzle to clean by precisely impacting the surface.

And just as robotics are streamlining the assembly line, so is dry CO2 cleaning – systems can be automated for improved efficiency and have recently taken the automotive plastics industry by storm. BMW and VW are the first European automotive manufacturers to implement these practices, but more will surely follow.

Another huge shift in the manufacturing is that towards environmentally-friendly practices, and where recycled CO2 succeeds is in preventing water and chemical waste from entering and harming the environment.


We’ve come a long way from smoky factories full of laborers churning out products. Manufacturing, like almost all industries, is steadily moving away from physical, muscle-powered work to digital, brain-powered work.

And while these technologies have already done a great deal in transforming all engineering and manufacturing, I have a feeling that we haven’t even begun to see what they can do.



Here are other Manufacturing Transformation posts on similar topics:

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Oct 16 2014

In A&D Manufacturing, Details Make all the Difference


“Details create the big picture.”

Sanford I. Weill

Details can make or break your business. I read this quote by Sanford I. Weill, former chief executive and chairman of Citigroup Bank. I was amused at the similarity between the Sanford’s quote on the Banking industry and Aerospace & Defense manufacturing. Let me explain.

Something I’ve been hearing a lot about lately from the Aerospace & Defense industry is the problem of missing parts. It’s not that fuselages or rocket engines are disappearing. Rather, simple but essential parts aren’t getting produced properly or at all. What happens is that the project stalls as a given manufacturer or assembler waits. And waits.

We might think in such a critical and regulated industry as A&D, that having parts go missing would be a rare event. Apparently not. I’ve heard from several people in the industry that it happens more than they would like to admit.

The problem can be as simple as the bolts for one part of the engine that were specified and available in the original design, but got changed in one of the ECOs and nobody bothered to tell the vendor’s supplier. Or the supplier was told but forgot to act on the memo.

Complexity in the A&D Manufacturing Process

Why has this mis-communication become a growing problem? I’m sure it has a lot to do with the complexity of the modern production / supply chain, especially in the A&D industry. Nobody makes an airplane or a rocket in one place, or even within one country.

As an example of the complexity at work, according to Boeing on their website, “the 787 Dreamliner has about 2.3 million parts per airplane. They include everything from ‘fasten seatbelt’ signs to jet engines and vary in size from small fasteners to large fuselage sections.”

Continuous Improvement Compounds Complexity

Making matters worse, manufacturers continue to seek ways to improve operational excellence. So, processes are constantly being evaluated and potentially improving, adding new challenges. What this means is that the tracking and enforcing Engineering Change Orders (ECOs) through every step of manufacturing and assembly, for every single item affected by ECOs, can no longer be done satisfactorily with manual or disparate systems. It is for this reason that digital manufacturing solutions are increasingly being deployed within the A&D industry. By connecting engineering design with execution systems, it is possible to address and overcome the challenge of managing ECOs – and ensuring current designs are being executed upon during production activities.

If you forget to update one item or fail to call one supplier about the smallest component change, then the entire production process might grind to a halt. For multi-million dollar products, that kind of downtime can be quite costly, and apparently increasingly unavoidable.

Digital Manufacturing as a Good Approach

This increasing complexity is why Boeing, for one, has been digitizing their engineering and production processes for quite some time now. The company requires suppliers and their partners to work with their digital manufacturing and engineering systems to perform change orders. The system is dynamic and fully integrated, so ECOs ripple automatically to the furthest reaches of the supply chain. This way, Boeing can update products as often as necessary and not worry about whether every partner on the list has heard the news.

Not only do details “create” the big picture, but they can “destroy” it too, if some are missing when you are manufacturing or assembling an aircraft. Change will always happen, and the more complex the supply chain, the more important it is to have automated methods of processing ECOs and deploying them everywhere.

Many companies think they have control because they’re on top of the big issues. But the fact is, every supply chain is only as strong as its weakest link, whether that link is a common bolt … or just a nail.


Here are two other blog posts focused on the aerospace & defense industry that you might find interesting:

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