The most important news of the summer in manufacturing had nothing to do directly with manufacturing. Apple and IBM are collaborating. This is a significant evolution of cultures. In the beginning, Apple portrayed itself as the anti-IBM. Now, neither makes most of its money from personal computers.
IBM makes money from enterprise software and services. It’s database technology, competitive to Oracle, powers many large enterprises. It faces the same problems that Oracle and SAP face—the promises of enterprise-wide integration fall short of reality. Companies have invested heavily in the software and services to make it run. Yet, return on the investment has not lived up to expectations.

Apple makes most of its money from small devices. I view this as part of the fulfillment of Steve Jobs’ dream from the mid-80s of making computers easy enough for anyone to use. It’s just the the computers that embody that vision today do not sit on desktops. They slip into your pants pocket.

iPhones and iPads found their way into enterprise networks even faster than the rebels of the 80s who brought PCs into the factory. And with far less angst. Once technologies came together—radios, sensors, graphics power, designs, interfaces, cameras, software—the mobile device takeover of the enterprise happened before IT could figure out what was going on.

This means that every worker in a factory from manager to engineer to operator has more power in his or her pocket than the designers of the first rocket to the moon. Because manufacturing data now gets fed into corporate databases, people no longer need to search everywhere for information. Because everything is networked and all the networks interoperate, people, machines, devices and databases can all be connected with each other.

An operator has a problem with a machine? Just pull out the iPhone, call an engineer, show the engineer a video of the problem in real time, discuss the situation, arrive at a solution, enter a work order, log the situation, return to production. This is not only possible, it actually happens in forward thinking factories.

Several years ago, Ron Monday of Online Development and Fred Yentz of ILS Technology showed me how PLCs could be connected to IBM databases. We have far eclipsed that early vision. The next manufacturing revolution is happening while we watch.

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