Mar 31 2015

The 4th Industrial Revolution is Coming – We’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat!

4th-industrial-revolution-is-coming-need-bigger-boat.pngThere’s a famous line from the 1975 movie “Jaws,” when the characters finally see the killer shark they’ve been chasing in their boat for days—a huge, 25-foot monster. The sheriff takes one look at the shark and says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”


I think that’s how manufacturers are going to feel—if they don’t already—when they look at the coming 4th Industrial Revolution.

A Connected World

To understand what will be required, we can start with the essential feature of the Industrial Internet: its connectedness.

Instead of the traditional silos of operation that have existed since the first industrial revolution, everything and everyone in the Industrial Internet will be connected in close collaboration and synchronization, mostly through the Internet. This is what is meant by the Internet of Things (IoT), or when we talk specifically about the manufacturing world, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).

With the arrival of IIoT, there will no longer be separate silos for corporate planning, product design, manufacturing execution, supply chain logistics, quality management, manufacturing intelligence, analytics and so on. Rather, there will be a single seamless system with information flowing upstream and downstream, and across organizational structures, throughout the lifecycle of production operations.

If you’re tempted to think this is in the distant future, consider AT&T, a member of the Industrial Internet Consortium. According to an article on, AT&T already has more than 18.5 million machines connected to the Internet.

Connectedness is a requirement, but it’s not the only one. People, systems and machines need to do more than exchange information. They must be able to do it in meaningful ways. They must understand each other. They must communicate. This will require a new kind of manufacturing platform.

Manufacturing 2.0: It’s Time for a Bigger Platform

The concepts of Manufacturing Execution System (MES) and Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM) have evolved over the years as the importance of automation, performance improvement and globalization has grown. MES was initially developed to manage production processes at a single plant. Over time, plant-based MES applications evolved into MOM platforms, suitable for global management of a wider scope of operations. These platforms take a broader view of execution in the enterprise, managing activities like quality, maintenance, and warehouse, as well as production.

Increasingly and to varying degrees, MOM platforms also provide visibility into manufacturing intelligence as well as external connectivity to supply chains. I’ll take a deeper “dive” into this topic in my next post.

Now, with the advent of the 4th Industrial Revolution, we are actually seeing the manifestation of what Gartner first coined as “Manufacturing 2.0” back in 2010. Roll back your time machines to a day when much of the world was still reeling from a global recession, and investment in manufacturing systems was at an all-time low. During this time, the need for greater visibility, control and synchronization was acute – especially across global operations. It looks like the IIoT might just be an impetus to help drive this initial vision forward to fruition.

The concept of Manufacturing 2.0 is that of a platform—or a connected set of platforms—that reaches both deeply into manufacturing activities, and broadly across organizations including enterprise planning, product design, all manufacturing-related systems, and the supply chain.

This new world demands full digitization of the value chain, breaking down the barriers between engineering and manufacturing operations, through the virtualization of shared processes. This virtualization will help manufacturers in standardizing the digital repository so that processes and workflows can be simulated and implemented faster, leading to significant business advantages such as ease of continuous improvement and accelerated New Product Introduction.

The idea of a Digital Twin, first proposed by Dr. Michael Grieves at the University of Michigan in 2003, is a great example of how this concept is quickly becoming a reality.

A Short List of Requirements

So far, here is a high-level list of requirements we have discussed in order for the vision of Manufacturing 2.0 to actually be achieved, which includes manufacturers being able to:

  • Provide integration across the “silos” of operations, machines and people
  • Work across manufacturing operations, both internally and externally (e.g., ERP, product planning, logistics, workforce, supply chain, customers)
  • Gather and process virtually all manufacturing-related data (e.g., parts, warehouse, process, assembly)
  • Interface to all devices, fixed or mobile
  • Do all of the above continuously, and in real-time

I ended the last article by saying that manufacturers should ask themselves: “What should I be doing to get ready? What will the platform requirements be, and how can I start building it?”

This post has detailed the platform requirements. As for getting started, manufacturers can take any step in the areas mentioned above as soon as possible, so long as the technology chosen is part of a clear path toward the requirements of Manufacturing 2.0. Even if you don’t need all of those capabilities today, you soon will. If you want to participate in the benefits of the 4th Industrial Revolution, to borrow the movie phrase, you’re going to need a bigger boat.

In my next article, I’ll address what may be the most important issue of all: the role of the user.


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Mar 31 2015

Mobility in Manufacturing [INFOGRAPHIC]

Today we are happy to share an infographic that has some really interesting statistics on what growth trends are occurring around the use of mobility in manufacturing. Other interesting statistics include benefits now being achieved as well as 10 different functional areas that stand to benefit.

Special thanks to Cre8tive Technology & Design (CTND) for sharing this infographic. Learn more about CTND here.

Mobility in manufacturing metrics

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Mar 26 2015

The 4th Industrial Revolution is Coming – But What Is It?

The 4th Industrial Revolution is Coming

Click to enlarge. Image credit: Report on Recommendations for implementing the strategic initiative INDUSTRIE 4.0

It’s been called the Factory of the Future, the Smart Factory, the Industrial Internet, Industrie 4.0 and the 4th Industrial Revolution, among other names. Whatever you call it, everyone seems to agree that it’s coming soon, and it will change manufacturing as we know it.

In a nutshell, the 4th Industrial Revolution is a world where machines are intelligent, networked, and can communicate with each other and with humans. It is the ramifications of this connectivity that has the academic and analyst worlds excited.

What exactly will this new world look like? Everyone seems to have their own opinion. According Acatech, an academic advisory group out of Germany, there are more than 134 different interpretations of the Industrie 4.0 vision. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that the revolution is in its early stages, driven by early adopters. How fast they are moving and in what direction will depend a lot on the infrastructure already in place—those with automated systems that stretch from enterprise planning, design and execution (e.g. design, plan and build) will be ahead of the curve.

The Tug of War over Direction

Another reason for confusion is that each of the “official” organizations trying to map the future of manufacturing is not in agreement, so are waging an economic battle over what happens next. Essentially, there are two major industry organizations attempting to lay the foundation. One is based in Germany, and the other is in the U.S. (There are several other groups and consortiums, but these two are the largest and most influential.)

Germany’s Industrie 4.0.

The German perspective, called Industrie 4.0, was founded in 2013 by the German government. It has become a cornerstone of that country’s high-tech strategy. Industrie 4.0 focuses on design principles and standards. More importantly, considerable attention has been placed on communicating a need for greater automation across these areas of manufacturing:

  • Interoperability
  • Virtualization
  • Decentralization
  • Real-Time Capability
  • Service Orientation
  • Modularity

This focus should not be surprising, given the heavy emphasis of German automation companies that operate in this space. Germany also promotes the Leading-Edge Cluster Competition, which has awarded tens of millions of Euros to collaborative teams of companies and researchers working to advance the technologies needed to make Industrie 4.0 a reality. To date, the German effort has not produced concrete results. This has some supporters worried that Industrie 4.0 may be on the verge of failure.

The U.S.’s Industrial Internet Consortium.

The U.S approach, under the banner of the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), was formed in 2014 by a collaboration of companies that include AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM and Intel. The IIC’s approach is built on three main pillars:

  1. Intelligent (connected) systems and devices
  2. Advanced Analytics (to deal with the huge amount of data coming from those connected systems)
  3. Knowledge power (of the people working with those systems and using those advanced analytics)

The emphasis on the human side of the equation (vs. the automation side) is considered by many to be an important advantage of the IIC. Another advantage is its focus on finding practical solutions through the creation of industry use cases and “testbeds” to drive innovation in real-world applications. Testbeds are a key part of the IIC effort, providing “a controlled experimentation platform, conforming to an IIC reference architecture, where solutions can be deployed and tested in an environment that resembles real-world conditions.”

In February of this year, Bosch, Cisco, National Instruments and TechMahindra formed the first testbed to come out of the IIC. This “Track and Trace” testbed has the goal of “managing handheld power tools in manufacturing and maintenance environments,” and will aim to track and trace the use of these tools to ensure their proper use, prevent their misuse and collect data on their usage and status.

Who will be the Winner?

For now, the momentum seems to be with the Industrial Internet Consortium, thanks to its early results. But, whichever way the battle turns out, everyone stands to gain in the end. Manufacturing enterprises will transition smoother into the digital age of the connected factory – and with this transformation will come virtual products, on-demand production, mobile real-time analytics, and all the rest of the exciting benefits promised by the Factory of the Future. How soon will it happen? Most experts predict major strides over the next five years.

The important questions that manufacturers should be asking today are: “What should I be doing to get ready? What will the platform requirements be, and how can I start building it?”

I’ll take a look at these questions in my next post.


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Mar 24 2015

From Real to Virtual and Back: Current and Future Trends In 3D Imaging

trends-3D-printingBy now, you’ve probably heard a lot about 3D data acquisition and reconstruction. The 3D revolution is quickly changing our modern world. Fast-evolving technologies have made it increasingly simple for even home users to translate objects from the physical world into digital data that can be stored, manipulated, edited, and otherwise tweaked in cyberspace.

This trove of digital information can then be used to summon imaginative objects into the real world. Already, functional 3D printers enable hobbyists to recreate any number of objects, of course with certain limitations. Most consumer-level objects are rendered in thermoplastic or biodegradable organic materials.

At present, 3D imaging and printing are novelties among consumers. However, 3D imaging/printing is poised to become the next transformative technology. Consumers may be slower to adopt, but commercial interests cannot afford to ignore the promise of 3D acquisition and reconstruction for tasks like rapid prototyping and more. Experts expect the technology to drive innovation in numerous industries, including architecture, engineering, art, aerospace, education, manufacturing and even medicine.

Endless Possibilities

The possibilities of 3D imaging seem limitless. It’s now possible to build rough prototypes using traditional methods, scan those objects into a computer, manipulate the obtained data sets to make final virtual improvements, and then 3D print the final prototype object. Even though computer assisted design (CAD) has been around for decades, advances in computing and other technologies are taking CAD to a new level.

The potential advantages for manufacturing are fairly obvious. Opportunities for streamlining the prototyping process are one example. Once 3D data has been acquired, it can be quickly manipulated, refined, altered and improved using nothing more than sophisticated software. Digital modeling and fabrication are quickly becoming indispensable tools. 3D modeling software, combined with machines, such as CNC routers, laser cutters, and 3D printers are capable of yielding physical objects in a variety of materials.

3D printing, also called additive manufacturing (AM) uses 3D data to build an object in physical space. Data is sent to an industrial robot, capable of sequentially depositing layers of material, or using techniques such as sintering or extrusion. The difference between the old and new is simple: Old techniques relied on carefully removing material to arrive at a final prototype. AM uses sequential-layer material addition or joining, under automated control, to produce a 3D object from the ground up.

Image Acquisition

There are a number of techniques available to acquire appropriate 3D image files. The process can be as simple as using multiple exposures from 2D cameras, to sophisticated images constructed using computed axial tomography (CT) scan. Of course, CT uses X-rays to penetrate beneath the surface of an object, providing detailed information about its internal structure.

3D images may also be acquired using other forms of sensors. Lasers, for example, are employed by the Laser Imaging Detection and Ranging (LIDAR) system to provide terrestrial scanning information about large, possibly hidden objects in the landscape. When combined with ground-level images (photogrammetry), this technology can render 3D models of buildings, roads and other structures — yielding, in essence, a virtual cityscape in three dimensions. Add data in the form of GPS-location tagging, and the model becomes a reliable, detailed representation of the real world. Already, this technology is harnessed to improve outcomes in archeology, architecture and other fields.

Saving Lives — Limitless Potential

Perhaps some of the most exciting potential applications involve the medicine field. A branch of 3D imaging/printing called bioprinting is already being used to manufacture tissues for prostheses and grafting — including skin, bone, cartilage, and even heart tissue. This remarkable use of AM combines biocompatible materials with cells and other components to generate living, functional tissues suitable for transplantation and safe assimilation into the body.

“3D printing allows for tailor-made materials for personalized medicine,” said Horacio R. D’Agostino, M.D., in a recent press release. “It gives us the ability to construct devices that meet patients’ needs, from their unique anatomy to specific medicine requirements … With some patients, the current one-size-fits-all devices are not an option,” added D’Agostino. “3D printing gives us the ability to craft devices that are better suited for certain patient populations that are traditionally tough to treat, such as children and the obese, who have different anatomy. There’s limitless potential to be explored with this technology.”

This arguably represents the most sophisticated use of the technology to date, as the challenges involved in building suitable biological materials from scratch are considerable. Just a handful of years ago, these trials seemed insurmountable, yet new applications are emerging almost on daily. Limitless potential indeed.


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Mar 19 2015

Mobility Makeovers are Transforming Manufacturing

mobility-in-manufacturingInnovation has been a driving force behind progress for businesses across all sectors. Success is often determined by an organization’s ability to select the best new technology, and then roll it out across their business before the competition. However, the temptation of the “shiny, new thing” is familiar to everyone. Many brands have fallen from chasing “cool technology” bought on a whim, without a long-term business plan to justify the investment.

One such arena where new mobile technologies are promising to transform business is within manufacturing operations. There is a lot of talk around tablets on the plant floor, apps planning work flows and touch screens replacing paper. Those that have assessed the value and usability of technology innovation, and have incorporated the adoption of this technology as part of a longer term business plan, are the ones that stand to reap the most rewards.

Mobility Strategy is now a Must Have

If you don’t at least have a mobility strategy of how you plan to leverage this technology now, then you would likely fall into the “laggard” category. I am not saying you need to have your mobility plan executed and completed – my point is that you should have a strategy by now, even if that strategy is to do nothing.

mobile_phone_users_chartWith the digital and global transformation of manufacturing operations, we increasingly live in a world with blurred boundaries. Our work lives are blending into our personal lives, and vice versa. Nowhere is this more evident than with smart phones. According to eMarketer, it is expected that 4.6 billion people worldwide will be using a mobile phone in 2014. Of that figure, nearly half are smart phones. This growth is expected to continue. See the chart at right.

All these smart phone users face the issue on evenings and weekends of “Do I check my work email?” And, of those that do, how often should I look? Of course, readily accessing email is just one feature of a smart phone. Custom developed apps are becoming increasingly common, which can include notifications should an alert be deemed necessary. For example, if you are a plant manager, and you have the option of being notified immediately if a power shut down occurs at your plant, wouldn’t you rather know first? Or, would you rather find out Monday morning, when your output report indicates an issue occurred yesterday, and you didn’t have a choice to do anything to fix it?

As manufacturing businesses work to meet higher customer expectations, shorter deadlines, tighter budgets and increasingly complicated specifications, any “edge” you can achieve can have significant results. The bottom line is that employees are increasingly being liberated from behind their desks, enabling them to be productive on the move. A business that has a shop floor solution that is consistent across the entire organization helps to reduce variation and defects while making it easier for workers to receive instructions and report activities. And, to respond faster to change, adversity, or whatever else that you would prefer to learn about sooner vs. later.

Manufacturers need a mobility solution that complements their existing infrastructure, is flexible to the dynamic environment of day-to-day operations, and can also be readily managed without extensive IT involvement. Given the pervasiveness of mobile communications, your mobility strategy needs to be an all or nothing approach. Businesses that don’t embrace mobility whole-heartedly will soon feel the pinch on their bottom line.

A Leadership Example

Alstom Transport is well on their way with a mobility strategy. Having recently deployed a Dassault Systèmes Manufacturing Execution System, they are now experiencing improved real-time visibility to their plant, greater enforcement of their manufacturing standards, reduced costs and even better quality. This is all thanks to a mobility makeover!

Watch a video on the full story here:


Why bother with paper when task schedules, work instructions and up-to-the minute status reports can be updated and shared via touch screens and portable tablets? Alstom Transport employees can login and out of tasks as they move around the plant floor enabling greater, more accurate data collection to feed continuous process improvement initiatives based on the manufacturing intelligence that is gained.

The aim for manufacturers in this day and age is for information to be distributed, acted upon, collected and analyzed in real-time without obstacles or hold ups. An MES system assures roadblocks to the flow of information are kept to a minimum. Imagine driving around a city and only ever hitting green lights! Once such a uniform system is in place, all employees, whatever their role, operate within the same system thereby increasing efficiency and reducing errors.

Real-time production visibility is no longer a pipe dream and is increasingly being realized by manufacturers of all sizes. As long as teams are fully invested and embrace the system across the whole business, the mobility makeover will make for a far leaner and profitable organization. In this case, the “shiny new thing” in manufacturing is mobility solutions and all the most successful businesses are now jumping on the bandwagon.


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