Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Do you want to devote your life and engineering talents building social websites designed to trick people into giving you their personal data so that your company can sell it and the founder and his friends become billionaires? Or, would you rather do something significant, forging abundance, engineering the big challenge to help people survive and thrive?

I miss spending a week of my Augusts in Austin, Texas. No, not for the 105 deg F outside and 65 deg F inside the convention center. It was for National Instruments’ NI Week user conference. Some of the brightest engineers I knew worked there or were customers and the pursuit of solving big engineering challenges was palpable.

NI now focuses on instrumentation for solving those big challenges. Being out of my normal area of coverage, they don’t contact me anymore. But it’s still a cool company. Infected a little by “big company disease”, but still cool.

I thought about that while reading the latest Abundance Insider Newsletter from Peter Diamandis. This guy is crazy—crazy smart, that is. If you aren’t receiving the newsletter and following him, click here and start getting it. You may not totally agree, but it’ll blow your mind for sure.

Diamandis originated the X Prize to encourage accomplishing big, hairy, audacious ideas.

Here are some examples from the latest newsletter and a bonus thrown in from a podcast.

Renewable Energy

What: Siemens Gamesa is now leveraging the Earth’s surface for a future of energy abundance. The large-scale renewable energy technology manufacturer has just begun operations of what it claims is the world’s first electrothermal energy storage system. Already, Siemens Gamesa has turned a section of volcanic rock into a massive organic battery, capable of storing up to 130 megawatt-hours of energy for a week. The company additionally reports that its electrothermal energy storage system is significantly less expensive than conventional storage solutions. If we can begin to harness organic material for energy storage, how would this influence the modern-day power grid and storage solutions?

Why it’s important: Renewable energy has long been promoted as an alternative solution to fossil fuels and other contemporary sources of energy. However, their oft-cited limitation is that of energy storage. If Siemens Gamesa demonstrates the successful scale-up of its sustainable solution to the storage problem, pervasive implementation of renewable energy sources would become a much more feasible option, and long-term implications would abound. If communities could soon store energy beneath their homes for extended periods of time, how might this influence real estate values and opportunities for expansion? What new microgrid networks and local economies would arise?

City of the Future?

What it is: Long in the works, Sidewalk Labs’ plan to build out a high-tech utopia on Toronto’s waterfront is now out. While still subject to a thorough public vetting process — principally by government-appointed, non-profit partner Waterfront Toronto — the plan outlines an urban model for integrated smart cities of the future. Dubbed “the most innovative district in the world” by Sidewalk Labs CEO Dan Doctoroff, the pitch’s most pioneering components include autonomous vehicle networks, ubiquitous public Wi-Fi, an 89 percent reduction in greenhouse gases, and countless sensors for collection of “urban data” to optimize civil engineering decisions.

Why it’s important: Already, Sidewalk Labs’ comprehensive plan has been projected to help create 44,000 jobs and generate $4.3 billion in annual tax revenue. Sidewalk Labs has additionally stated it will spend $1.3 billion on the project with the aim of spurring $38 billion in private sector investment by 2040. Beyond the targeted district, however, a materialized smart city plan could become an ideal testing ground for next-generation breakthrough technologies and automated ecosystems that provide seamlessly delivered public services and predictive routing.

Human-like Prosthetics

What it is: A team of researchers at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) has made extraordinary headway in the field of high-tech prosthetics, creating a bionic arm that functions smoothly without a brain implant. Previous robotic prosthetics required a patient to undergo high-risk, invasive surgery for a brain implant to achieve maximum robotic mobility. This arm, however, bridges the gap between seamless function and non-surgical bionics. In one instance, it was shown capable of following a computer screen cursor in real time without exhibiting the jerky motions and intermittent delays typical of other non-surgical mind-controlled prosthetics.

Why it’s important: This innovation represents a fundamental leap in the age-old mission to enhance the quality of life and autonomy of individuals who have lost a limb. By improving prosthetic quality at significantly diminished risk, non-invasive bionics no longer require patients to risk their health to enjoy long-term use of a high-functioning, mind-controlled limb. As brain-computer interface (BCI) technology continues to surge forward, we are quickly charting the path to a future wherein responsive prosthetics will serve countless uses, from limb replacement to assistive aids in any number of industries and professions.

Repurpose your Chem E (or other) Degree For Greater Good

In an interview on TechNation with Moira Gunn, Neil Kumar, CEO of Bridge Bio and a Chem E , talked of reflecting when he was in school that the traditional industries that employed Chem Es were on the decline—Oil & Gas and Plastics. So he looked around and focused on biopharma. He noted that many of the startups in that market were engineers with a Chem E background. His company has developed a new model for addressing genetically-driven diseases affecting a small number of patients.

Conclusion

Is it time to start thinking bigger about the contribution you can make to society (and yourself and family)? Instrumentation, control, automation, data—these are all technologies and skills that can lead to a better life than trapping people on their smart phones in an app that sucks you dry.

Everything as a Service — My Second HPE Discover Report

Everything as a Service — My Second HPE Discover Report

Antonio Neri, HPE CEO, announced during his keynote address to HPE Discover Las Vegas 2019, that the company was moving toward “Everything as a Service”—a consumption-based model within the next three years. Wait, isn’t this a company that sells boxes? Lots of power inside the boxes, but still. Most of the conversations for the rest of the week reinforced this strategic direction.

From the press release, “HPE will offer entire portfolio through a range of subscription, pay-per-use and consumption-driven offerings, in next three years transitioning the company into an as a Service company over time.” The concept will work out as a service contract with the customer with built-in verifiability as a default. It will offer a low level of granularity.

In the industrial automation space, the reaction differed among competitors and customers when Inductive Automation (note: one of my sponsors) began with its version of pricing for its original HMI/SCADA software. Some 15-16 years later, it seems to be doing well. Actually well enough that in the past year a couple of competitors have announced their responses.

When we discussed Edgeline IoT during the arranged Influencer Coffee Talk—Tom Bradicich, HPE vice president, for years has been a visionary evangelist regarding data generated from the processes, aka the Edge. I met him during his stay at National Instruments where he received industrial grounding after his IBM days where he promoted the concept of “Big Analog Data.” He told us that now he has moved from being a visionary to being an historian. These ideas are now adopted, not just theory. When asked about owning data from manufacturing, he said unequivocally that IT will own the data.

Manufacturing applications are not core to HPE, but we did get a lot of play during Discover. I gave a brief discussion of the manufacturing “demo” in my first post. It was one of the first stands on the exhibition floor. A mock up of a conveyor system with stations formed the layout of the exhibit. The system began with design, continued through assembly, looked at packaging, switched a little into predictive maintenance and troubleshooting of the line, then a quality station.

Two partners sill be immediately recognizable by regular readers—PTC and ABB. The design station featured Creo CAD from PTC along with Windchill PLM. The next station was guided assembly featuring PTC Vuforia augmented reality helping guide assembly along with PTC ThingWorx connecting data from the IP-enabled screwdriver (torque, presence, number of screws per assembly, and the like). An ABB dual-armed robot deftly prepared a box and inserted the product. Later on was another station using PTC’s Vuforia and ThingWorx.

At our 5G Influencer Coffee Talk, executives noted that 5G is still in process, but HPE Aruba is working on it. That is, 5G along with WiFi 6. Before long, there should be some interesting Aruba wireless products. 5G holds great potential for communicating things as well as people. We discussed the difficulties and potentials for handoffs from WiFi to Cellular and back. Could this be a better/faster SCADA? It’s build for today’s cloud not older computing architectures like LTE is.

During our security Influencer Coffee Talk, technologists from HPE discussed silicon-rooted trust. HPE makes its own ASIC that assures only authorized firmware is running on the device.

Finally, more thoughts relevant to manufacturing and production in industrial use cases. As “Dr. Tom” Bradicich told us during his session, data is created at the edge, so need the ability get at the data at the edge. Therefore the concept of move data center from cloud to edge. This is actualized by a partnership of HPE, ABB, Rittal, and PTC. There is sort of a “data center in a box”, although the box is actually a rack.

While I was checking the “box” out on the show floor, the representative from Rittal told me that customers at a recent conference in Monaco complained that it was too much work to install equipment at the edge. But this data center in a box concept overcame that objection.

On last tidbit for thought. HPE has a platform called NonStop—a very high availability compute platform. We spotted on in an Edgeline rack. The HPE statement held that it is inventing the market for high availability converged OT, not following. I wonder what applications this could disrupt.

Forging Abundance, Engineering the Big Challenges

Driving the Next Wave of Intelligent Edge Adoption

This week is IT week in my study of how IT and OT are coming together. I am in Las Vegas at the annual Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) customer conference called Discover. This rather long post looks at many of the announcements that show how far HPE has come in its expansion into manufacturing.

An interesting point (and you can see some pictures on my Twitter feed @garymintchell) is that there is a manufacturing demo at the entrance into the show area this week. It demonstrates partnerships with PTC (CAD, augmented reality, and IoT), ABB (robotics in this case, more later), along with video and predictive maintenance analytics.

Following are summaries of a number of announcements at this very busy event that have an impact on manufacturing technology and use cases. HPE calls the Edge—meaning basically not in the servers.

Things announced included new edge solutions, research labs, and programs to simplify and accelerate Intelligent Edge adoption, enabling customers to create unique digital experiences and leverage analytics and machine learning to adapt to changes in real-time.

The new offerings and programs include:

  • Major enhancements to Aruba Central, the only cloud-based platform that unifies network management, AI-powered analytics, user-centric service assurance and security for wired, wireless and WAN at the edge.
  • Integrations and new turnkey edge-to-cloud solutions, delivered with ABB, Microsoft, Rittal, and PTC, enabling real-time intelligence and control in industrial environments.
  • The Intelligent Edge and IoT Center of Excellence (CoE) and Labs, part of Hewlett Packard Labs, to develop and commercialize new capabilities and technologies that accelerate customers’ and partners’ Intelligent Edge journey.

Research suggests that over the next decade, the Internet of Things (IoT) and related data growth has an economic potential of up to $11 trillion per year. To capture this potential, organizations need to implement an Intelligent Edge, an architecture that is fully connected, secured, distributed and autonomous. However, to scale the Intelligent Edge across the value chain, organizations need solutions that secure and simplify deployment and management, converge operational technology (OT) with IT and address the lack of skills and funding.

“The edge has emerged as the new center of the digital universe, opening up opportunities for organizations to create new digital experiences and gain competitive advantage,” said Keerti Melkote, founder and president, Aruba, a Hewlett Packard Enterprise company. “Today, we announce innovations that will enable our customers to capitalize on these experiences and opportunities by dramatically simplifying, securing and accelerating the deployment of the Intelligent Edge.”

Unified cloud-based platform

Siloed network management solutions are creating complexity and increasing time to remediation. To accelerate IT operations and allow IT professionals time to focus on innovation, Aruba is making significant enhancements to Aruba Central. With these enhancements, customers will benefit from AI-powered network analytics, improved security and user-centric assurance for wired, wireless and WAN edge infrastructures from a single point of control. Significant advancements include:

Advanced AI-powered analytics and assurance capabilities based on Aruba NetInsight and User Experience Insight allow IT professionals to resolve infrastructure problems quickly before they impact the organization. Now integrated into the Aruba Central cloud-based platform, Aruba’s Analytics and Assurance capabilities deliver IT professionals a way to quickly remediate intermittent network issues while also proactively identifying how to optimize customers’ infrastructures to ensure optimal experiences.

Software-defined branch (SD-Branch) and SD-WAN, managed on Aruba Central, is now enhanced with improved branch management and orchestration capabilities to centrally define business-intent policies to meet the hybrid cloud connectivity needs for distributed enterprises and reduce operational costs. The new SD-WAN Orchestrator in Aruba Central makes it easier for IT professionals to deploy flexible and secure overlay topologies in a large-scale edge infrastructure, connecting thousands of branch locations with multiple data centers. Aruba Virtual Gateways now available for AWS and Azure, combined with orchestration, cost-effectively extends network and security policies to workloads running in the public cloud. The new SaaS prioritization feature not only enhances the performance of SaaS applications but also provides visibility about the end-user experience for business-critical applications, such as Microsoft Office 365 and Salesforce.

Integrated in Aruba Central, Aruba ClearPass Device Insight provides IoT visibility and security via a single pane of glass, employing automated device discovery, and machine learning-based fingerprinting and identification. Used in conjunction with Aruba ClearPass Policy Manager and Aruba’s dynamic segmentation security capabilities, networking and security teams can automate unique policy enforcement down to each device and user.

New network management workflow enhancements are integrated into Aruba Central to accelerate device provisioning with an automated mobile app to deliver network health views and troubleshooting across all locations allowing IT to focus on delivering the needs of the business.

Flexibility in how to obtain and support edge infrastructure

To provide organizations more flexibility and choice in how they obtain and support their edge infrastructure, Aruba solutions are also available via HPE GreenLake for Aruba a Network-as-a-Service (NaaS) subscription-based offering.

Turnkey edge-to-cloud solutions

In industrial environments, the Intelligent Edge requires an intricate interplay between sensors, actuators, networks, applications and infrastructures from edge to cloud. It also involves unique challenges including harsh environmental conditions, intermittent network connectivity and lack of qualified on-site staff. Consequently, such deployments are often costly, slow and vulnerable to security and reliability problems. To simplify, accelerate and secure deployments, HPE is launching pre-integrated turnkey edge-to-cloud solutions in collaboration with key industry partners:

The integration of ABB Ability Smart Sensor technology with Aruba access points is designed to deliver a scalable, high-performance wireless connectivity solution for operational technology (OT) equipment such as motors, mounted bearings and pumps. This allows industrial companies to capture valuable data and insights from their equipment to proactively monitor their condition and performance, and plan maintenance in advance in order to avoid costly and disruptive downtime.

Jointly developed by ABB, HPE, Microsoft and Rittal, the Secure Edge Data Center for Microsoft Azure Stack is the industry’s first enterprise-grade edge appliance for Microsoft Azure Stack, enabling real-time intelligence and action in harsh industrial environments, while providing seamless integration with Microsoft Azure. The appliance provides IP55-rated environmental protection, cooling, redundant power supply and distribution and automated management – allowing customers to run pre-configured, high-end enterprise applications in locations such as factories or oil rigs.

HPE Edgeline IoT Quick Connect dramatically simplifies the convergence of OT and IT, enabling customers to monitor and control OT equipment such as machines or motors in real time. Jointly delivered with Microsoft, HPE Edgeline IoT Quick Connect is based on the HPE Edgeline OT Link Platform, which connects OT devices, the HPE Edgeline EL300 Converged Edge System and Microsoft Azure IoT, a collection of cloud services to connect, monitor and control IoT assets.

Fast Start Condition Monitoring enables customers set up condition monitoring within 90 days to deliver performance and availability of their OT equipment. An end-to-end solution implemented by HPE Pointnext Services, Fast Start Condition Monitoring is designed for customers who want to get started quickly with condition monitoring, but lack the skills to do so. HPE Pointnext Services help define use cases, OT data sources and workflows, and implement pilots for proof of value, based on HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems, the HPE Edgeline OT Link Platform and PTC’s ThingWorx Industrial IoT platform.

The newly established Intelligent Edge and IoT CoE & Lab provides critical capabilities and technologies to HPE’s partners and customers to accelerate Intelligent Edge adoption. It will guide partner activities, M&A and research in the following areas:

  • Knowledge transfer to HPE’s channel partners to accelerate market adoption of the Intelligent Edge with the Channel to Edge Institute (CEI), a program which helps HPE’s channel partners gain the required expertise to effectively recommend, sell, implement and manage Intelligent Edge solutions for their customers. The CEI provides training on Intelligent Edge use cases and business cases and will deploy joint go-to-market programs with HPE’s channel and ecosystem partners.
  • Research programs to drive rapid commercialization of Intelligent Edge technologies that simplify edge-to-cloud management and OT-IT convergence and enable new use cases – this includes, among others, a unified provisioning, policy and security management across wired networks, Wi-Fi and 5G; the next generation of HPE’s first-of-a-kind HPE Edgeline Converged Edge Systems and HPE Edgeline OT Link Platform; and real-time video analytics for quality, security and customer experience applications.
Smart Factory Demonstrats Quantifiable, Real-Time Benefits of IIoT and Digitizing

Smart Factory Demonstrats Quantifiable, Real-Time Benefits of IIoT and Digitizing

A mere 2.5-hour drive south on I-75 June 13 brought me to the Schneider Electric plant in Lexington, KY that manufactures load centers and other electrical devices. Schneider Electric marketing people invited me down for tours and festivities marking the unveiling of this brownfield manifestation of Smart Factory using the latest of IIoT, AR, digitalization, and other smart manufacturing principles.

Highlights:

• Schneider Electric Lexington facility is a showcase for sharing IIoT integration strategies with End Users, Machine Builders and Partners

• Lexington plant strategically integrates connected EcoStruxure solutions to enhance efficiency and provide end-to-end operational visibility throughout supply chain operations

• Smart Factory has tracked quantifiable benefits from IIoT implementation, including a 20% reduction in mean time to repair and a 90% paperwork elimination

If this plant is to demonstrate “in real time how its EcoStruxure architecture and related suite of offerings can help increase operational efficiency and reduce costs for its customers”, I asked the natural question—“What is EcoStruxure?”

I’ve heard the term for many years, but being a little slow on the uptake, I’ve never really understood what is meant. So, they set me up with an interview with Vice President Domenic Alcaro. Refreshingly, EcoStruxure is neither a platform or a product. Alcaro told me, “EcoStruxure is a phenomenal way to explain our value structure.” The foundation block consists of connected products (connectivity being a key word). The intermediary block is what they call Edge Control. However, whereas many people look at Edge and think hardware, Schneider Electric considers it basically software. Think the InduSoft HMI product, if you will. Atop the model then are apps and analytics.

Back to the plant:

In operation for more than 60 years and employing nearly 500 people, the Lexington factory is truly a showcase of modern integrated digital experience. Among the benefits realized include empowering operators to gain visibility into operations maintenance, driving a 20% reduction in mean time to repair on critical equipment, and process digitization eliminating paper work by 90%.

“We understand the value of IIoT and the positive business impact that innovation and digitization can have on our operations – particularly in our global supply chain. As a living example of how our EcoStruxure solutions deliver benefits to our customers, we are gaining those same benefits in our operation and sharing that knowledge,” said Mourad Tamoud, Executive Vice President, Global Supply Chain, Schneider Electric. “With our latest Smart Factory showcase, we are able to demonstrate this value in real-time, show the solutions at work and share the tangible benefits that we ourselves are seeing from our own IIoT investment as we accelerate our Tailored Sustainable Connected 4.0 digital transformation.”

As part of the Smart Factory program, Schneider Electric exemplifies brownfield implementation for customers who may be facing the same challenges with their existing production facilities. The team is able to offer strategies and talk through the challenges they faced to help customers exploring IIoT connected technologies overcome those same hurdles toward their modernization goals. By sharing their experience in leveraging EcoStruxure solutions, visiting customers can better understand the value of the brownfield modernization and the resulting operational efficiencies.

In this production environment, these solutions have demonstrated operational and quantifiable value since their implementation:

• EcoStruxure Augmented Operator Advisor – Delivered a 20% reduction in mean time to repair on critical equipment where it has been implemented.

• EcoStruxure Resource Advisor and Power Monitoring Expert – Delivered 3.5% YOY energy savings in the Lexington facility in addition to $6.6 Million in regional savings since 2012; sophisticated reporting capabilities and increased transparency also drive operational performance.

• AVEVA Indusoft Web Studio – Delivered powerful Edge digitization of paper processes to eliminate paper work by 90% and cloud connectivity has enabled digital dashboarding of a critical process.

• RFID OsiSense – Eliminated 128 daily fork truck miles and eliminated $500,000 in Work in Progress (WIP) inventory with a 33% first year ROI.

• AVEVA Insight Data – Unlocked and shared silos of data in a mobile manner reducing downtime in critical processes by 5% with ROI of less than 6 months.

• Magelis GTU/GTUX HMI – Provided agile operator management of the process and vivid visual of the process onsite and via mobile devices.

Among the tidbits of information I picked up on the tour include:

Extensive use of Ethernet and IP networking. Interesting in that the very first conversations I had with a Modicon VP 20 years ago concerned how Ethernet was the network of the future. In 1999 that was revolutionary thinking. Today—it’s the backbone. Hat tip to Mark Fondl.

Great use of data tracking involving RFID tags, MES software, Ethernet connectivity, and visualization that coordinates all the products and containers throughout the company-wide power-and-free conveyor system.

Oh, and a Megelis computer/HMI collecting data from sensors and passing it on uses Node-RED for programming. It’s only the second instance of Node Red I’ve seen in automation.

Finally, Schneider Electric plant management correctly combines digitalization with Lean principles enhancing their daily stand ups and feeding continuous improvement.

Impressive facility. When our politicians and east coast journalists go ripping on American manufacturing, they should be forced to take deep dives into plants like this one.

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”.

Smart Factory Demonstrats Quantifiable, Real-Time Benefits of IIoT and Digitizing

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.