Implementing Product Lifecycle Intelligence Yields Benefits

Develop a new product category, hire an analyst firm to conduct some market research, and show how your new product provides benefits to customers. We see it in some “scientific” studies and also studies broadcast on TV advertisements. Here is one by a company called Makersite who touts their new approach called product lifecycle intelligence (PLI).

Makersite, a software company pioneering a new approach to sustainable product design and sourcing, released research conducted by Forrester Consulting, titled “Transform Product Sustainability into Performance Initiatives with Product Lifecycle Intelligence,” that reveals over half of organizations’ sustainability efforts are driven by regulations despite the benefits from adopting more sustainable product lifecycle intelligence (PLI).

Once again we are eliminating data silos. After more than 15 years of writing about products doing just that, I cannot believe it’s still a problem. It’s like the companies relying on complex Microsoft Excel spreadsheets to manage production. Oops, many still do that, too.

Currently, manufacturers struggle to translate compliance initiatives into making informed decisions during the product design phase due to outdated data systems and data silos. The study, commissioned by Makersite, shows that by implementing PLI to integrate data held within their systems, product engineers in the design phase can create products that are more sustainable (30%), have faster time-to-market (28%), and reap higher profits (26%). 

The 2024 study, which included insights from 493 respondents with product design and sourcing decision-makers in manufacturing, also pointed to several operational improvements including the ability to support product lifecycle decisions with better data quality (29%), improved visibility of materials and component supply chains (28%), and more efficient sustainability reporting (28%).

Engineers always have trouble translating their benefit calculations into language the C-suite understands—or even cares about.

Despite the benefits, however, respondents reported experiencing challenges while securing executive support for incorporating sustainability in PLI (53%), measuring and quantifying the environmental impact of their products (51%), and obtaining budget to gather material, component, and supplier intelligence integral to optimizing their product’s quality, cost, and sustainability (50%). These difficulties are a manifestation of poor maintenance of availability, cost, sustainability, and performance data in manufacturers’ material and component libraries – an issue for 49% of decision-makers.

For more insight into the impact of product lifecycle intelligence, download the full commissioned study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Makersite: “Transform Product Sustainability into Performance Initiatives with Product Lifecycle Intelligence.”

Emerson Adds Software to its DeltaV Automation Platform

Emerson has gone through a process of divesting companies and adding others, such as NI (nee National Instruments) becoming overall more of an automation company. Much like years ago when Rockwell shed aerospace and trucks and other industries becoming Rockwell Automation.

Its tagline in press releases for some time has included software as an emphasis. Now, they’ve announced the new DeltaV Automation Platform adds SCADA, MES and operations management software technologies. The idea is to promote smarter, safer, optimized and more sustainable operations.

One of my more popular podcasts asked the question why industrial technology vendors are moving to software.

As part of its Boundless Automation vision for helping organizations deliver more seamless operations, global automation technology and software leader Emerson is evolving its DeltaV brand into the DeltaV Automation Platform. The newly expanded automation platform will include supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) systems, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and operations management software alongside the distributed control (DCS) and safety systems (SIS) and other technologies that have been part of the brand for decades. The evolution builds a more comprehensive automation platform to make it easier for users to deliver smarter, safer, more optimized and more sustainable operations.

Organizations across nearly every industry including life sciences, specialty chemical, mining and extraction, food and beverage, energy and more are experiencing new complexities as they face the modern challenge of improving throughput, performance and quality while simultaneously increasing sustainability of operations. Navigating this increased complexity requires seamless mobility of data, reliable performance and advanced control strategies from the plant floor to the corporate boardroom. The comprehensive nature of the new DeltaV Automation Platform will empower users to move away from “plant-by-plant” strategies to “site-by-site” or even enterprise automation solutions—the more advanced, integrated automation strategies that are increasingly necessary to compete in a complex global marketplace.

This, of course, is an ideal way to perpetuate, and indeed increase, vendor lock-in of its customers. Why go anywhere else for all your hardware and software needs?

“In an era of increased demand and higher sustainability targets, today’s organizations are looking for ways to manage and contextualize data across the many software solutions they use to help unlock easier, faster and safer decisions,” said Nathan Pettus, president of Emerson’s process systems and solutions business. “The DeltaV Automation Platform will combine a flexible, fit-for-purpose portfolio of DCS, SIS, SCADA, MES and operations management software with unmatched application and cross-industry expertise to help cross-functional teams across the enterprise more easily achieve their goals.”

With an extensive portfolio unified under one brand, users will have access to a comprehensive technology ecosystem that provides a broader suite of solutions. Organizations will more quickly and easily find the right solutions to meet their specific needs and will gain easier access to service, training and support.

All solutions in the DeltaV Automation Platform will be seamlessly supported through the Guardian digital customer experience. 

Aras Follow Up With CTO Rob McAveney

Rob McAveney, Aras CTO, had a follow up conversation with me to flesh out some of the ideas from the recent customer conference. 

Perhaps the concept of an industrial metaverse is fizzling along with the Apple Vision Pro hype, but McAveney’s view is that it is all about data. Yes, without massive amounts of data, what will the visualization tools visualize?

While on the stage, he discussed how the coming Cognitive wave including AI will automate away rote tasks humans have done. Or as he put it, AI + Cognitive systems—leverage to describe what is possible and zoom in on potential solutions. He sees the coming 5.0 software leveraging all the data we’ve accumulated from 4.0 for breakthroughs. Some things to watch for in the Cognitive + AI systems:

  • AI as an assistant
  • Syndicate digital twins
  • Connect system of systems
  • Able to become increasingly able to suggest more complex solutions

We talked a little further about generative AI. Essentially PLM and similar systems are massive databases. Generative AI can be a way of pulling data from documents without the pain of finding and opening the documents.

He also suggested a day forthcoming when GenAI may be able to generate part drawings and then eventually could expand to subassemblies.

I’m thinking that, just like when using ChatGPT now, a trained and knowledgeable human will be required to check and finish the work.

Aras had introduced new Digital Thread capabilities. In my early career, I embodied the “digital thread”, so I’m quite interested in the evolution of the idea. McAveney told me to think of it in terms of collaboration from design to lifecycle management to suppliers to the audit trail.

New capabilities will support simplified user interactions for viewing, editing, and implementing changes on interrelated items. In addition, a new streamlined experience for configuring connections to a comprehensive range of authoring tools simplifies extending the digital thread to a broader set of enterprise applications.

I’ve recently been taking a deep dive into low-code applications. McAveney told me, “We did it before it had a name. We originally called it modeling. Builder was born as low code. It’s core of what we do; everything is built on that engine. Customers take it and extend it.

Aras Innovator is the only PLM platform with a fully integrated low-code development environment. Leveraging a rich set of development and enterprise-class DevOps services, Aras subscribers can extend applications or develop their own to address the unique needs of their organization. These enhancements introduce new widgets and charts that simplify the user experience and navigation for analytics dashboards and reports embedded in Aras apps. In addition, advanced form design tools facilitate a more streamlined, modern user experience for applications built within Aras-powered applications and deployed within Aras’ DevOps framework.

Why Should I Use Low Code Software?

The beginnings of a trend in manufacturing software has appeared on my horizon about mid-way through last year. This would be the use of low-code software for application development. I first noted it with some acquisitions in my market space. Recently I have begun working with a company called Quickbase who has a platform built with low-code application development in mind.

[Note: In my work with Quickbase, I’m sometimes compensated for what I do. They do not dictate what I write or say.]

I recently had the opportunity to talk with two users of Quickbase’s platform for their manufacturing software needs. You can hear them plus me at the Quickbase Empower Virtual Customer Conference on May 8 (our session is at 11:30 am EDT immediately following the keynotes). Their stories verified what I was beginning to hear from my first encounters. Listening to their tone of voice, what really perked them up was the ability to be rapidly responsive to requests from users for modifications to screens and reports.

That discussion spurred me on to some additional research on the topic. Following is a list of benefits I uncovered on my research. This is not a list specific to Quickbase, but a more generic list that you might find with applications in a variety of areas. But check out Quickbase for your specific needs. I’m sure I’ll have more interviews in the future to take a deeper dive into Quickbase specifically. For now, I was interested in this new feature. Feel free to contact me with additional thoughts. Or stories about how you have used low-code in engineering or manufacturing operations software.

  • Faster Development: Low-code platforms enable rapid application development by providing pre-built templates, drag-and-drop interfaces, and visual development tools. 
  • Reduced Costs: With low-code development, you can save on development costs by eliminating the need for hiring expensive developers with specialized coding skills. Additionally, the time saved in development translates to cost savings.
  • Increased Productivity: Low-code platforms allow both professional developers and citizen developers (non-technical users) to build applications. This democratization of app development increases productivity by enabling more people within an organization to contribute to development efforts.
  • Flexibility and Customization: While low-code platforms provide pre-built components and templates, they also offer the flexibility to customize applications according to specific business requirements. Developers can extend functionality by writing custom code when needed.
  • Streamlined Maintenance: Low-code platforms often include built-in features for application monitoring, debugging, and performance optimization. This simplifies maintenance tasks and reduces the time required for ongoing support and updates.
  • Integration Capabilities: Many low-code platforms offer out-of-the-box integrations with popular third-party services, databases, and APIs. This makes it easier to connect your applications with other systems and data sources.
  • Scalability: Low-code platforms can scale with your business needs, allowing you to quickly add new features or expand functionality as your requirements evolve. This scalability helps future-proof your applications.
  • Accessibility: Low-code platforms often come with intuitive user interfaces and guided development processes, making app development accessible to a wider range of users, including those with limited technical expertise.
  • Faster Time-to-Market: By accelerating the development process and enabling iterative development cycles, low-code platforms help bring applications to market faster. This can give your business a competitive edge by allowing you to respond quickly to changing market demands.
  • Risk Reduction: Low-code platforms often come with built-in security features and compliance standards, reducing the risk of security vulnerabilities and ensuring regulatory compliance.

Overall, low-code application development software offers a compelling solution for businesses looking to rapidly build, deploy, and maintain applications with greater efficiency and flexibility.

AI Comes to Vision Software

Vision software for guiding robots news goes along with the burst of robot news. In this case, AI meets vision software. 

AI software company Micropsi Industries today announced MIRAI 2, the latest generation of its AI-vision software for robotic automation. MIRAI 2 comes with five new features that enhance manufacturers’ ability to reliably solve automation tasks with variance in position, shape, color, lighting or background. 

What sets the MIRAI 2 AI-Vision Software apart from traditional vision solutions is the ability to operate with real factory data without the need for CAD data, controlled light, visual-feature predefinition or extensive knowledge of computer vision.

Gary Jackson, CEO of Micropsi Industries, noted, “Recognizing the complexities of implementing advanced AI in robotic systems, we’ve assembled expert teams that combine our in-house talent with select system integration partners to ensure that our customers’ projects are supported successfully, no matter how complex the requirements.”

MIRAI is an advanced AI-vision software system that enables robots to dynamically respond to varying conditions within their factory environment, including variance in position, shape, color, lighting and background. What sets MIRAI apart from traditional vision solutions is the ability to operate with real factory data without the need for CAD data, controlled light, visual-feature predefinition or extensive knowledge of computer vision.

The five new features that will be available to MIRAI 2 users are:

Robot skill-sharing: This new feature allows users to share skills between multiple robots, at the same site or elsewhere. If conditions are identical (lighting, background, etc.), very little or no additional training is required in additional installations. MIRAI can also handle small differences in conditions by recording data from multiple installations into a single, robust skill. 

Semi-automatic data recording: Semi-automatic training allows users to record episodes (of data) for skills without having to hand-guide the robot, reducing the workload on users and increasing the quality of the recorded data. MIRAI can now automatically record all the relevant data—users only need to prepare the training situations and corresponding robot target poses.

No F/T sensor: Training and running skills is now possible without ever connecting a Force/Torque sensor. This reduces cost, simplifies tool geometry and cabling setup, and overall makes skill applications more robust and easier to train.

Abnormal condition detection: MIRAI can now be configured to stop skills when unexpected conditions are encountered, allowing users to handle these exceptions in their robot program or alert a human operator.

Industrial PC: The MIRAI software can now be run on a selection of industrial-grade hardware for higher dependability in rough factory conditions.

Fero Labs Redefines Trust in AI for Industrial Live Predictions

Fero Labs has developed software to help certain types of process manufacturing plants improve quality output economically when given a random mix of feedstock. I wrote about the company last August—A Better Way to Control Process Quality.

They sent a new press release, and I must admit that I understood almost nothing in it:

Fero Labs, the only Profitable Sustainability Platform for industrial optimization, announced the release of their ground-breaking feature ‘ExplainIt for Live Predictions’ which expands a factory’s production knowledge in real-time. This advanced feature for cross-functional teams increases trust in AI predictions by disclosing real-time text explanations about abnormal factors influencing their live production.

There were way too many marketing-type phrases in there. Worst of all was the concept of “trust in AI predictions.” So, I asked the very patient publicist. She suggested that I talk with Berk Birand, Fero Labs Co-founder and CEO. And, I did. He was most helpful.

We caught up from my last article about their ability to use the huge data sets manufacturers have accumulated over the past decade using advanced statistical methods and “white box machine learning (ML)” to help engineers optimize their plants. Make them more profitable and reduce waste (sustainability). Therefore the “Profitable Sustainability” company.

Birand took me through an example that I could understand, since I had a customer in the 90s who did this sort of process.

Imagine a plant with piles of scrap steel in a yard. They have an electric arc furnace that melts all that disparate steel that will be poured out eventually to make their final product. Given that the feedstock has high variability as to the composition of the steel, the typical plant overdesigns the process to allow for variations. This, of course, is wasteful on the surface. But if the final chemical analysis shows that the output will not make the desired tensile strength or other spec, then the waste is even higher.

What if you accumulated the data (feedstock, process, finished steel) over time built a modern AI model? Its predictions could be used to drive profits, reduce waste, save time. But, would anyone trust yet another advanced process control system? We all know that models eventually goes out of whack sometimes and sometimes gets the wrong answer.

Here comes the “trust” part of the trust in AI model. They built an explainable model from the beginning. It can predict characteristics, say tensile strength of the mix because of chromium or carbon levels and so forth. Since we know that every model is wrong sometimes,  they built in confidence levels in the prediction engine. Their AI looks at the material composition and suggests adding chemicals to the mix, but it gives an explanation and a confidence level. The engineer looks at the confidence report (I am confident in this prediction or I’m not confident in this prediction) and can decide whether to go with the AI or to go with gut feel based on years of experience.

He convinced me. Fero Labs has developed an AI engine that gives the engineer a level of trust in the prediction.

More explanation from the press release:

Expanding on Fero Labs’ white-box ML, which provides full transparency of Fero’s powerful machine learning models, the new ExplainIt feature provides a contextual explanation of anomalous factors involved in each live production optimization.

This type of analysis is typically addressed through linear Root Cause Analysis (RCA) tools. Unlike traditional methods, Fero Labs’ solution is non-linear, much like process operations, and delivers results in seconds rather than the hours or days typically needed. Traditional methods generally require the engineer to preselect a small sample of factors to investigate, which can introduce potentially misleading biases. Fero Labs’ software has the power to evaluate all relevant factors which improves insight and prediction accuracy.

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