Navigating a New Industrial Infrastructure

Navigating a New Industrial Infrastructure

The Manufacturing Connection conceived in 2013 when I decided to go it alone in the world from the ideas of a new industrial infrastructure and enhanced connectivity. I even had worked out a cool mind map to figure it out.

Last week I was on vacation spending some time at the beach and reading and thinking catching up on some long neglected things. Next week I am off to Las Vegas for the Hewlett Packard Enterprise “Discover” conference where I’ll be inundated with learning about new ideas in infrastructure.

Meanwhile, I’ll share something I picked up from the Sloan Management Review (from MIT). This article was developed from a blog post by Jason Killmeyer, enterprise operations manager in the Government and Public Sector practice of Deloitte Consulting LLP, and Brenna Sniderman, senior manager in Deloitte Services LP.

They approach things from a much higher level in the organization than I usually do. They recognize what I’ve often stated about business executives reading about all these new technologies, such as, cloud computing, internet of things, AI, blockchain, and others. “The potential resulting haste to adopt new technology and harness transformative change can lead organizations to treat these emerging technologies in the same manner as other, more traditional IT investments — as something explored in isolation and disconnected from the broader technological needs of the organization. In the end, those projects can eventually stall or be written off, leaving in their wake skepticism about the usefulness of emerging technologies.”

This analysis correctly identifies the organizational challenges when leaders read things or hear other executives at the Club talk about them.

The good news, according to the authors: “These new technologies are beginning to converge, and this convergence enables them to yield a much greater value. Moreover, once converged, these technologies form a new industrial infrastructure, transforming how and where organizations can operate and the ways in which they compete. Augmenting these trends is a third factor: the blending of the cyber and the physical into a connected ecosystem, which marks a major shift that could enable organizations to generate more information about their processes and drive more informed decisions.”

They identify three capabilities and three important technologies that make them possible:

Connect: Wi-Fi and other connectivity enablers. Wi-Fi and related technologies, such as low-power wide-area networks (LPWAN), allow for cable-free connection to the internet almost anywhere. Wi-Fi and other connectivity and communications technologies (such as 5G) and standards connect a wide range of devices, from laptops to IoT sensors, across locations and pave the way for the extension of a digital-physical layer across a broader range of physical locations. This proliferation of connectivity allows organizations to expand their connectivity to new markets and geographies more easily.

Store, analyze, and manage: cloud computing. The cloud has revolutionized how many organizations distribute critical storage and computing functions. Just as Wi-Fi can free users’ access to the internet across geographies, the cloud can free individuals and organizations from relying on nearby physical servers. The virtualization inherent in cloud, supplemented by closer-to-the-source edge computing, can serve as a key element of the next wave of technologies blending the digital and physical.

Exchange and transact: blockchain. If cloud allows for nonlocal storage and computing of data — and thus the addition or extraction of value via the leveraging of that data — blockchain supports the exchange of that value (typically via relevant metadata markers). As a mechanism for value or asset exchange that executes in both a virtualized and distributed environment, blockchain allows for the secure transacting of valuable data anywhere in the world a node or other transactor is located. Blockchain appears poised to become an industrial and commercial transaction fabric, uniting sensor data, stakeholders, and systems.

My final thought about infrastructure—they made it a nice round number, namely three. However, I’d add another piece especially to the IT hardware part. That would be the Edge. Right now it is all happening at the edge. I bet I will have a lot to say and tweet next week about that.

Make Things Cheaper or The Wal-mart Effect

Make Things Cheaper or The Wal-mart Effect

I have been reading a good book that I highly recommend. Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual by Michael Pollan.

This short, concise book packs much thought and makes you also think. Here, for example, is rule 44 out of 64:

With food, as with so many things, you get what you pay for. There is also a trade-off between quality and quantity, and a person’s “food experience”—a meal’s duration or quotient of pleasure—does not necessarily correlate with the number of calories consumed. The American food system has for many years devoted its energies to increasing quantity and reducing price rather than to improving quality. There’s no escaping the fact that better food—measured by taste or nutritional quality (which often correspond)—costs more, because it has been grown or raised less intensively and with more care. Not everyone can afford to eat well in America, which is a literal shame, but most of us can: Americans spend less than 10 percent of their income on food, less than the citizens of any other nation. As the cost of food in America has declined, in terms of both price and the effort required to put it on the table, we have been eating much more (and spending more on health care). If you spend more for better food, you’ll probably eat less of it, and treat it with more care. And if that higher-quality food tastes better, you will need less of it to feel satisfied. Choose quality over quantity, food experience over mere calories. Or as grandmothers used to say, “Better to pay the grocer than the doctor.”

As with food, so with other things.

Pondering this section, I recalled the Wal-mart effect. Are you old enough to remember when Wal-mart’s message was “Made in America”?

Suddenly its message was “Low Prices”.

The low prices translated to “No Longer Made in America.” The company’s buyers forced supplier manufacturers to chase ever lower costs. How could you make stuff even cheaper? Quality meant nothing. Buying a brand name product at Wal-mart you received a completely different product than if you bought one directly from the manufacturer’s distribution channel.

The idea spread everywhere. And buyers didn’t always play fair, either.

Once many years ago, I was at a Starbucks in Mount Prospect, IL doing something on my Palm Pilot (told you it was a while ago). A guy beside me asked to see the stylus.

Turns out he owned a small manufacturing company in the area that had bid on manufacturing the stylus. He quoted according to the specs as low as he could go–pretty much just to keep the machines in his plant busy. They told him “do not change the specs.”

He examined my stylus from the finished product. It was made much more cheaply than the spec. The Chinese supplier convinced Palm to change the spec, cheapen the product, and got the sale. Probably for a profit.

Tells me a couple of things:

  1. Be wary chasing the low cost supplier and customer
  2. Don’t be afraid to suggest changing the specs in the quest for business

Oh, and buy the book and practice the “rules”.

Taking Accelerated Computing from the Cloud to the Edge

Taking Accelerated Computing from the Cloud to the Edge

Check out a couple of interesting computing technology trends currently. On the one hand exist a few companies that exist on a solid business of I/O with a controller who also explore bringing IT technology into the OT world. On the other hand are companies who have developed powerful computing platforms for cloud applications looking for ways to bring that to the edge.

Taiwan-based Advantech builds on a solid I/O lineup with continual experimenting (along with name changes) around computing platforms. It in fact is one of the world’s largest industrial computer suppliers.

It informed the world last week that it has transformed into an “AIoT” provider. A definition of AIoT is not provided. From the context it appears to be a merging of AI (assuming artificial intelligence) and IoT. Note: I’m on vacation so I’m not calling people for interviews right now. Just passing these thoughts along from the Atlantic beach in Virginia.

The press release says that now, Advantech is accelerating AI at the edge with NVIDIA Jetson and aiming to drive the next wave of computing and real-time AI.

Linda Tsai, president of Advantech Industrial IoT Group, said, “Advantech has been in the IoT industry for a long time, and we are fully aware of the demand from edge to cloud. NVIDIA provides an energy-efficient and high-performance AI platform. It is ideal for compute-intensive embedded applications both on the edge and cloud. By closely collaborating with NVIDIA and our software partners, we’re able to develop new AIoT solutions for smart manufacturing and smart city applications.”

Advantech has developed a complete AI product line based on NVIDIA technology from the AI edge to the cloud. On the edge, utilizing the NVIDIA Jetson platform‘s powerful performance, Advantech will provide three AI edge solutions later this year: MIC-710IVA, MIC-720AI, and MIC-730AI for smart city, transportation, and manufacturing applications. These highly integrated systems allow AI application developers to rapidly create unique AI solutions based on Jetson. Advantech “amazed the world at the 2019 NVIDIA GPU Technology Conference (GTC) show in San Jose, USA on March 22 – 26 by launching its cutting-edge AI Network Video Recording (NVR) platform incorporating Advantech’s MIC-710IVA with NVIDIA Jetson Nano.”

For the AI cloud, Advantech’s SKY-6000 series servers with NVIDIA GPUs provide high-density solutions for the big data era. With industrial design capability, Advantech can successfully resolve thermal issues from high-density GPU computing. Also, NVIDIA T4 GPU qualification can ensure Advantech GPU servers have better temperature control and thermal management. This collaboration brings a more reliable server in automated optical inspection (AOI), smart transportation, medical equipment, and smart city applications.

Regarding future cooperation, Linda Tsai added, “Advantech’s partnership with NVIDIA is taking huge steps forward in making AI a reality for manufacturing, transportation, and smart city applications. Through close collaboration in AI product development and shared worldwide marketing programs, Advantech and NVIDIA are driving innovative transformations for AI applications.”

Moxa To Support OPC Foundation’s United Architecture Field Level Communications Initiative

Moxa To Support OPC Foundation’s United Architecture Field Level Communications Initiative

Things have been quiet on the OPC/UA and TSN front for about a year. I wrote a preliminary white paper a couple of years ago (link on my blog to download) based on a proposal brought by a number of German companies to OPC almost without warning. Since then, the group has succeeded in getting an official working group within OPC Foundation. But some companies have dropped interest in the project and others are notorious for lending public support while dragging their feet on adoption.

This press release from Moxa, a manufacturer of Ethernet infrastructure for industrial applications notes it is now supporting the Open Platform Communications Foundation’s (OPC’s new name, I guess) United Architecture Field Level Communications (OPC UA FLC) initiative. It says it will “lend its considerable expertise to the development of a unified infrastructure for Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) technologies.”

Moxa says that the aim is to build an open, standards-based communication solution for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) by extending the OPC UA machine-to-machine communication protocol from sensors in the field to IT systems or the cloud. Adopting one unified network infrastructure will provide vendors with independent end-to-end interoperability of their field level devices, such as sensors, actuators, controllers and cloud addresses, and enabling bilateral IIoT data communications between the factory floor and the cloud. With TSN as its foundation, the OPC UA FLC initiative meets emerging IIoT requirements for deterministic networking and real time communications over high-bandwidth, low-latency networks.

“We are proud to be part of this new initiative of the OPC Foundation. It is the first-ever joint undertaking by the leading players in the automation industry under the auspices of the OPC Foundation to build TSN technologies for future industrial automation systems based on a truly unified infrastructure,” said Andy Cheng, President of the Strategic Business Unit at Moxa. “Moxa has committed to collaborating with customers and key industry players to drive innovation, industry standards, proof of concepts, testbeds, and the successful implementation of advanced TSN technologies.”

“Moxa’s valuable knowledge and great portfolio of industrial switches for the vast OPC UA TSN ecosystem, covering all the way from sensors to the cloud, are very helpful for our market to realize a truly unified infrastructure for future automation networking,” said Stefan Schönegger, Vice President of Product Strategy & Innovation at B&R Industrial Automation, a fellow member of Moxa’s on the FLC Steering Committee.

Companies on the FLC Steering Committee include ABB, Beckhoff, Bosch Rexroth, B&R Industrial Automation, Cisco, Hilscher, Hirschmann, Huawei, Intel, Kalycito, KUKA, Mitsubishi Electric, Molex, Omron, Phoenix Contact, Pilz, Rockwell Automation, Schneider Electric, Siemens, TTTech, Wago, and Yokogawa. The FLC initiative has also gained support from the TSN testbeds of the Edge Computing Consortium (ECC), the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC), and Labs Network Industry 4.0 (LNI 4.0) with regard to the FLC activities to adopt “One TSN”.

Moxa has participated in all these testbeds to showcase the interoperability of its TSN switches with the devices of other vendors in one standard Ethernet-based network infrastructure. This interoperability will be instrumental in the future of industrial automation by opening up new possibilities brought on by the IIoT and Industry 4.0.

Survey Sees 4th Industrial Revolution Moving From Buzz to Reality

Survey Sees 4th Industrial Revolution Moving From Buzz to Reality

The popular saying holds that the future is here just unevenly distributed. According to a survey released by PWC and The Manufacturing Institute, that thought is certainly true about the Fourth Industrial Revolution (which PwC labels 4IR but many others label Industry 4.0). This research confirms my observations that many manufacturers have projects at a variety of stages, while many others have adopted a wait-and-see attitude.

The report notes that fourth industrial revolution has been met with both enthusiasm and fence-sitting. While sentiments and experiences have been mixed, most business leaders are now approaching 4IR with a sense of measured optimism. Indeed, larger systemic changes are underway, including building pervasive digital operations that connect assets, developing connected products and managing new, real-time digital ties to customers via those products.

While manufacturers recognize the potential value of advanced technologies and digital innovation—particularly robotics, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), cloud computing, advanced analytics, 3D printing, and virtual and augmented reality—they are still deliberating how and where to invest and balancing the hype with their own level of preparedness. Meanwhile, they’re also well aware of the significant changes 4IR will bring to a new manufacturing workforce—that is, one that is increasingly symbiotic and increasingly beneficial for many workers and manufacturers alike.

This narrative is reflected in a new survey of US-based manufacturers carried out by PwC and The Manufacturing Institute, the workforce and thought leadership arm of the National Association of Manufacturers. We see a definitive—and, indeed, inevitable—shift to 4IR as companies seek to integrate new technologies into their operations, supply chain, and product portfolio. At the same time, they acknowledge that scaling, justifying 4IR investments, and dealing with uncertainty surrounding use cases and applications usher in a new set of challenges.

Some key survey findings include:
• While the sector as a whole is making assertive forays into 4IR, many manufacturers still inhabit the awareness and pilot phases. Nearly half of manufacturers surveyed reported that they are in the early stages of a smart factory transition (awareness, experimental, and early adoption phases).
• Manufacturers do expect the transition to accelerate in the coming years—73% are planning to increase their investment in smart factory technology over the next year.
• While we see a number of fence-sitters, the bulk of manufacturers are indeed prioritizing 4IR, the digital ecosystem, and emerging technologies. 31% report that adopting an IoT strategy in their operations is “extremely critical” while 40% report that it’s “moderately critical.”
• About 70% of manufacturers say the biggest impacts of robotics on the workforce in the next five years will be an increased need for talent to manage in a more automated, flexible production environment and the opening of new jobs to engineer robotics and their operating systems.

…While adopters have identified clear signs of success. Though most manufacturers are still climbing the 4IR adoption curve—albeit at different speeds—those that have made progress are reporting a modicum of performance boosts measured by productivity gains, reduced labor costs, new revenue streams from IoT-connected products and services, as well as improved workforce retention and worker safety. Those that have effectively defined their use cases with a focus on outcomes rather than technology are seeing early wins, and are looking for ways to generate even more value.

The Takeaway
Manufacturers are seeking to balance 4IR hype and reality. And most acknowledge that sitting back and waiting for the inevitable may not be an option.

The road may be longer than the hype would have companies believe, but preparing for and embracing change is a muscle many of today’s manufacturers are ready to flex. Those that can build on their ad hoc pilots and prioritize investments and strategies with their long-term desired business outcomes will be better positioned to create lasting value for their organization.