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Is Manufacturing Ready For The Internet Of Things?

Posted By Paul Tate, July 15, 2013 at 9:56 AM, in Category: Transformative Technologies

Industrial revolutions are never easy to handle, especially when you don't see them coming. The imminent 'Internet of Things' (IoT) revolution over the next few years could well be tough for manufacturers who are not prepared.  

A few years ago I had the pleasure of an enlightening conversation with one of our Manufacturing Leadership Board members, Adriana Karaboutis. She is now vice president and global CIO at Dell, but at that time she was a senior process information officer for global manufacturing at General Motors. 

During our interview, Karaboutis highlighted a sea-change in the way increasingly intelligent vehicles created new challenges for manufacturing.

“We’ve now got a lot more soft parts versus hard parts in today’s vehicles, and some of these are radically new technologies,” she noted. “We now have to make sure the right combination of software has gotten into each product, and we have to do various design changes within our manufacturing systems to make sure we don’t end up with what I call ‘soft part mis-builds’. The car may look great, but if we’ve made a software mistake, we’ve got a complete mis-build.”

In 2008, the number of ‘things’ connected to the internet exceeded the number of people on earth. According to current predictions, there will be more than 50 billion of these 'things' connected to the internet by 2020.

In fact, with the recent introduction of the IPv.6 internet protocol, there are now apparently enough internet addresses available to have 100 urls for every atom on the surface of the planet.

All of these smart ‘things’ – whether they’re electronic devices, sensors, food items, product packaging, furniture, clothing, individual medicines, or even the very smallest parts of your vehicle - will be talking to each other, and monitoring a vast number of aspects of the world around them, and around us.

Clearly, these newly connected and digitally-enabled products will need to be manufactured in some way. The big question is - how is manufacturing now going to switch from its traditional focus on hard physical entities, and learn how to successfully embed, test and monitor whole new levels of intelligence and connectivity in absolutely everything we make?

Perhaps in the future, nothing will ever be standalone again. The challenges for manufacturing are significant. Here are just three to consider:  

Innovation: How will manufacturers embrace the new potential of embedded intelligence in the way they design and develop new physical goods? Will this be an era when design will always need to be tightly integrated with production? And how will they learn how to envision and develop new ‘soft’ services around increasingly interconnected, self-monitoring, location-aware products? Do they currently have the resources, the insights, the imagination or the talent to do so?

As one Brazilian electronics engineer, Jonny Doin, recently highlighted in an online blog: “The coming Internet of Things (IoT) is quite possibly the biggest change that will impact engineers over the next decade as we evolve our standalone embedded systems into massive and powerful networks of devices that deliver unprecedented amounts of data over the Internet.”

Production: So how will manufacturing cope with the need to physically add and quality control resilient and secure intelligence into their products in the future? How much of a transformation will be required in traditional production processes and work flows to fuse them with new devices and prepare manufacturers to succeed in this brave new world of pervasive connectivity?

How will they structure and prioritize their plant systems when every tool, every sensor, every piece of raw material, every tiny part, every worker, every container, and even the building itself are pumping out potentially valuable information over the network?

Collaboration: How should manufacturing companies now prepare to restructure their collaborative networks with their suppliers, partners, and customers, to deliver ubiquitous intelligence in ever more complex, sometimes remotely-controlled products, to customers who have ever more knowledge and increasingly instant demands and choice?

While the prospects of increasing connectivity may offer reductions in speed to market and help optimize assets for manufacturers, it also raises increasing concerns over partner accountability, confidentiality, supply and logistics chain resilience, and both IP and operational security.

Are you ready for the Internet of Things in manufacturing?

What do you predict will be the biggest IoT opportunities for your company by 2020?

What challenges do you expect to keep you awake at night as you strive to adapt to this new industrial future in the years ahead?

Written by Paul Tate

Paul Tate is Research Director and Executive Editor with Frost & Sullivan's Manufacturing Leadership Council. He also directs the Manufacturing Leadership Council's Board of Governors, the Council's annual Critical Issues Agenda, and the Manufacturing Leadership Research Panel. Follow us on Twitter: @MfgExecutive

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Posted on
The principles of "Design by Contract" which were core to the Eiffel O-O programming language, to me, are the way to carry out processing via messaging.

If a message sender has data that needs to be enriched in some way, the obvious initial requirement is to identify a processor that is going to be capable of carrying out the desired processing.

The message receiver software reasonably needs to be able to understand incoming messages but also subject these to pre-conditions before engaging processing.

Then, when the processing is done, the now enriched data should be subjected to post-conditions before shipping the enriched data onward or shipping the enriched data back to the sender.

At the end of the day, there really is nothing new here from what we have seen on production lines where screening takes place when a part/assembly arrives at a work station and wehre QA is carried out as the part/assembly leaves that work station.
Posted on
Hi Karl - thnaks for your reply, but I am not sure I understand your comment that there is 'nothing new here'. Are you suggesting that the predicted 50 billion new 'things' likely to be connected to the Internet by 2020 is not going to have an impact on  the future of manufacturing? I'd be intrigued to hear other comments on this. Please feel free to share your views everyone. 
Posted on
Hi Paul,
I agree we are at the cusp of a new era where "digital meets the physical" offers new opportunities for manufacturers. It will enable manufacturers to transform from selling products to providing more value added solutions. Traditional industrial equipment now derives anywhere between 40%-60% of its value from embedded software. The opportunity for such manufacturers to harness the power of power of remote sensing to advise customers on how to improve the life of machine through better use is increasingly more attractive - leading to new business models and new relationships between manufacturers and customers - where the price of products will be more closely tied to the value it creates for the customer. This in turn will have a greater influence on how these products are manufactured.
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