Human Side of IoT: Local Startup Empowers Forgotten Shop Floor Workers!

Let’s not forget: human workers can and must still pay a role in the IoT!

Sure, the vast majority of IoT focus is on large-scale precision and automated manufacturing (Industrie 4.0 as it is known in Germany, or the Industrial Internet here). However, an ingenious local startup, Tulip, is bringing IoT tools to the workbench and shop floor, empowering individual industrial engineers to create no-code, low-code apps that can really revolutionize things in the factory.  Yes, many jobs will be replaced by IoT tech, but with Tulip, others will be “enabled” — workers will still be there to make decisions, and they’ll be empowered as never before.

Um, I’m thinking superhuman factory Transformers, LOL!

The Tulip IoT gateway allows anyone to add sensors, tools, cameras and even “pick to light bins” (never heard that bit of shop lingo, but they looked cool in video) to the work station, without writing a line of code, because of the company’s diverse drivers support factory floor devices. It claims to “fill the gap between rigid back-end manufacturing IT systems and the dynamic operations taking place on the shop floor.”

Rony Kubat, the young MIT grad who’s the company’s co-founder is on a mission “to revolutionize manufacturing software,” as he says, because people who actually have to play a hands-on roll in product design and production on  shop floor have been ignored in the IoT, and many processes such as training are still paper-based:

“Manufacturing software needs to evolve. Legacy applications neglect the human side of manufacturing and therefore suffer from low adoption. The use of custom, expensive-to-maintain, in-house solutions is rampant. The inability of existing solutions to address the needs of people on the shop floor is driving the proliferation of paper-based workflows and the use of word processing, spreadsheet and presentation applications as the mainstay of manufacturing operations. Tulip aims to change all this through our intuitive, people-centric platform. Our system makes it easy for manufacturers to connect hands-on work processes, machines and backend IT systems through flexible self-serve manufacturing apps”.

While automation in factory floors continues to grow, manufacturers often find their hands-on workforce left behind, using paper and legacy technology. Manufacturers are seeing an enormous need to empower their workforce with intuitive digital tools. Tulip is a solution to this problem. Front-line engineers create flexible shop-floor apps that connect workers, machines and existing IT systems. These apps guide shop-floor operations enabling real-time data collection and making that data useful to workers on factory floors. Tulip’s IoT gateway integrates the devices, sensors and machines on the shop floor, making it easy to monitor and interact with previously siloed data streams (you got me there: I HATE siloed data). The platform’s self-serve analytics engine lets manufacturers turn this data into actionable insights, supporting continuous process improvement.

The company has grown quickly, and has dozens of customers in fields as varied as medical devices, pharma, and aerospace. The results are dramatic and quite varied:

  • Quality: A Deloitte analysis of Tulip’s use at Jabil, a global contract manufacturer, documented 10+% production increases. It reduced quality issues in manual assembly by more than 10%. found production yield increased by more than 10 percent, and manual assembly quality issues were reduced by 60 percent in the initial four weeks of operation.
  • Training: Other customers reduced the amount of time to train new operators by  90 percent, in a highly complicated, customized and regulated biopharmaceutical training situation: “Previously, the only way to train new operators was to walk them repeatedly through all the steps with an experienced operator and a process engineer. Tulip quickly deployed its software along with IoT gateways for the machines and devices on the process, and managed to cut training time almost by half.”
  • Time to Market: They reduced a major athletic apparel maker’s time to market by 50% for hundreds of new product variations. That required constantly evaluating the impact of dozens of different quality drivers to isolate defects’ root causes — including both manual and automated platforms. Before Tulip, it could take weeks of analysis until a process was ready for production. According to the quality engineer on the project, “I used Tulip’s apps to communicate quality issues to upstream operators in real-time. This feedback loop enabled the operators to take immediate corrective action and prevent additional defects from occurring.”

Similar to my friends at Mendix, the no-code/low-code aspect of Tulip’s Manufacturing App Platform lets process engineers without programming backgrounds create shop floor apps through interactive step-by-step work instructions. “The apps give you access through our cloud to an abundance of information and real-time analytics that can help you measure and fine-tune your manufacturing operations,” Tulip Co-Founder Natan Linder says (the whiz-kid is also chairman of 3-D printer startup Formlabs). 

Linder looked at analytics apps that let users create apps through simple tools and thought why not provide the same kind of tools for training technicians on standard operating procedures or for building product or tracking quality defects? “This is a self-service tool that a process or quality engineer can use to build apps. They can create sophisticated workflows without writing code…. Our cloud authoring environment basically allows you to just drag and drop and connect all the different faucets and links to create a sophisticated app in minutes, and deploy it to the floor, without writing code,” he says. Tulip enables sharing appropriate real-time analytics with each team member no matter where they are and to set up personal alerts for the data that’s relevant to each.

IMHO, this is a perfect example of my IoT “Essential Truth” of “empowering every worker with real-time data.”  Rather than senior management parceling out (as they saw fit) the little amount of historical data that was available in the past, now workers can share (critical verb) that data instantly and combine it with the horse sense that can only be gained by those actually doing the work for years. Miracles will follow!

Writ large, the benefits of empowering shop floor workers are potentially huge.  According to the UK Telegraph, output can increase 8-9 %, while cutting costs 7-8%, cutting costs approximately 7-8 percent. The same research estimates that industrial companies “could see as much as a 300 basis point boost to their bottom line.”

Examples of the relevant shop-floor analytics include:

  • “Show real-time metrics from the shop floor
  • Report trends in your operations
  • Send customized alerts based on user defined triggers
  • Inform key stakeholders with relevant data”

IDC Analyst John Santagate neatly sums up the argument for empowering workers through the IoT thusly:

“With all of the talk and concern around the risk of losing the human element in manufacturing, due to the increasing use of robotics, it is refreshing to see a company focus on improving the work that is still done by human hands.  We typically hear the value proposition of deploying robots and automation of improvements to efficiency, quality, and consistency.  But what if you could achieve these improvements to your manufacturing process by simply applying analytics and technology to the human effort?  This is exactly what they are working on at Tulip.  

“Data analytics is typically thought about at the machine level. Manufacturers measure things such as throughput, efficiency, and quality by applying sensors to their manufacturing equipment, capturing the data signals, and conducting analytics.  The analytics provide an understanding of the health of the manufacturing process and enable them to make any necessary changes to improve the process.  Often, such efforts are top down driven.  Management drives these projects in order to improve the performance of the business.  An alternative approach is to enable the production floor to proactively identify improvement opportunities and take action, a bottom-up approach. For this self-service approach to succeed shop-floor engineers need a flexible platform such as Tulip’s, that allows them to replace paper-based processes with technology and build the applications that enable them to manage hands-on processes.  The real time analytics and visibility of hands-on manufacturing processes from Tulip’s platform puts the opportunity to identify improvement opportunities directly in the hands of people engaged in the work cells.

“Digital transformation in manufacturing is about leveraging advanced digital technology to improve how a company operates.  But, as the manufacturing industry focuses on digital transformation it must not forget the value of the human element.  Indeed, we don’t often think about digital transformation in relation to human effort, but this is exactly the sort of thinking that can deliver some of the early wins in digital transformation. “ 

Well said — and thanks to Tulip for filling a critical and often overlooked aspect of the IoT!

I’m reminded of my old friend Steve Clay-Young, who managed the BAC’s shop in Boston, and first alerted me to the “National Home- workshop Guild” which Popular Science started in the Depression and then played a critical part in the war effort. Craftsmen who belonged all got plans and turned out quality products on their home lathes.  I can definitely see a rebirth of the concept as the cost of 3-D printers from Kubat’s other startup, Formlabs drops, and we can have the kind of home (or at least locally-based production that Eric Drexler dreamed of in his great Engines of Creation (which threw in another transformational production technology, nanotech). 

I’m clearing space in my own workshop so I can begin production on IoT/nanotech/3-D printed products. Move over, GE.

IoT: LiveBlogging PTC’s LiveWorx

Got here a little late for CEO Jim Heppelman’s keynote, so here goes!

  • Vuforia: digital twin gives you everything needed for merging digital “decorations” on the physical object
  • Unique perspective: AR takes digital back to the physical. Can understand & make better decisions.
  • Virtual reality would allow much of the same. Add in 3-D printing, etc.
  • “IoT is PLM.” Says PTC might be only company prepared to do both.
  • Says their logo captures the merger of digital and physical.
  • Case studies: they partnered with Bosch’s Rexroth division. Cytropac built-in IoT connectivity–  used Creo. Full life-cycle management. Can identify patterns of usage, etc. Using PTC’s analytics capacity, machine learning analysis. Want to improve cooling efficiency (it was high at first). Model-based digital twin to monitor product in field, then design an upgrade. How can they increase cooling efficiency 30%??  Came up with new design to optimize water channel that they will build in using 3-D printing. Cool (literally!). 43% increase in cooling efficiency. The design change results in new recommendation engine that helps in sales. Replaced operating manual with 3-D that anyone can understand. (BTW: very cool stagecraft: Heppelmann walks around stage interviewing the Rexroth design team at their workstations).
  • Ooh: getting citizen developers involved!!!  Speeds process, flexibility. App shows how products are actually operating in the field. Lets sales be much more proactive in field. Reinventing CRM.  May no longer need a physical showroom — just put on the AR headset.
  • Connectivity between all assets. The digital twin is identical, not fraternal. Brings AR into factory. They can merge new manufacturing equipment with legacy ones that didn’t have connectivity.  ABB has cloud-based retrofit sensors. Thingworx can connect almost anything, makes Industry 4.0 possible. Amazing demo of a simulated 3-D disassembly and replacement.
  • Hmmm — closing graphic of his preso is a constantly rotating circular one. Anticipating my “circular company” talk on Wednesday????

Closing the Loop With Enterprise Change Management. Lewis Lawrence of Weatherford, services to petroleum industry:

  • former engineer. In charge of Weatherford’s Windchill installation (they also use Creo).
  • hard hit by the drop in gas prices
  • constant state of flux
  • 15 years of constant evolution
  • their mantra: design anywhere, build anywhere.
  • enterprise change — not just engineering.
  • hmmm: according to his graphics, their whole change process is linear. IMHO, that’s obsolete in era of constant change: must evolve to cyclical. Ponderous process…
  • collect data: anything can be added, if it’s latest

The IoT Can Even Help You Breathe Better: GCE Group’s Zen-O portable oxygen concentrator for people with respiratory problems (not actually launched yet):

  • InVMA has built IoT application using ThingWorx to let patients, docs and service providers carefully monitor data
  • GCE made radical change from their traditional business in gas control devices. Zen-O is in the consumer markets. They were very interested in connected products — especially since their key competitor launched one!
  • Goals: predictive maintenance, improved patient care, asset management, development insight.
  • Design process very collaborative, with many partners.

The Digital Value Chain: GE’s Manufacturing Journey. Robert Ibe, global IT Engineering Leader at GE Industrial Solutions:

  • supports Brilliant Factory program.
  • they design and manufacture electrical distribution equipment, 30 factories worldwide.
  • “wing-to-wing” integrated process
  • had a highly complex, obsolete legacy
  • started in 2014: they were still running really old CAD technology. 14 CAD repositories that didn’t talk to each other. 15 year old PLM software. No confidence in any of data they had.
  • They began change with PLM — that’s where the digital thread begins.  PLM is foundation for their transformation.
  • PLM misunderstood: use it to map out cohesive, cross-functional, model-based strategy. Highlight relevance of “design anywhere — manufacture anywhere.” Make PLM master of your domain. Make it critical to commercial & manufacturing. Advertise benefits & value.
  • Whole strategy based on CAD. Windchill heart of the process.
  • Rate of implementation faster than business can keep up with!
  • Process: implementation approach:
    • design systems integration
    • model-based design
    • digital thread
    • manufacturing productivity.
  • common enterprise PLM framework
  • within Windchill, can see entire “digital bill of documents.”
  • focused on becoming critical for supply chain.
  • total shift from their paper-based legacy.
  • integrated regulatory compliance with every step of design.

It’s Not Your Grandmother’s IoT: Blockchain and IoT Morph Into An Emerging Technology Powerhouse:

  • Example of claims for fair-traded coffee that I’ve used in past

Finding Business Value in IoT panel:

  • Bayer — been in IoT (injection devices for medicine) for 7 years.  Reduced a lot of parts inventory.
  • Remote control of vending machines replaces paper & pencil
  • Your team needs to evangelize for biz benefits of IoT
  • New Opportunities:
    • vision and language
    • interacting with physical world
    • problem solving.
  • Didn’t know!  Skype can do real-time translation.
  • Google Deep Mind team worked internally, cut energy costs at its server farms. 15% energy reduction.
  • Digital progress makes economic pie bigger, BUT  most people aren’t benefitting economicallly. Some may be worse off. “Great decoupling” — mushrooming economic gap. One reason is that tech affects different groups differently.
  • “Entirely possible to create inclusive prosperity” through tech!

 

WEDNESDAY

Delivering Smart City Solutions and an Open Citywide Platform to Accelerate Economic Growth and Promote New Solution Innovation, Scott McCarley, PTC:

  • $40 trillion potential benefits from smart cities
  • 1st example & starting point for many cities, is smart lightpoles. Major savings plus value added. Real benefit is building on that, with systems of systems (water, traffic, energy, etc.) — the systems don’t operate in isolation.
  • Future buildings may have built-in batteries to add to power supply. Water reclamation, etc.
  • Cities are focused on KPIs across all target markets.
  • Cornerstone systems for a city: power & grid, water/wastewater, building management, city services & infrastructure.
  • Leveraging ThingWorx to address these needs:
    • deploy out-of-box IoT solutions from a ThingWorx Solution Provider: All examples, include Aquamatix, DEPsys (grid), Sensus, All Traffic, Smoove (bike sharing).
    • leverage ThingWorx to rapidly develop new IoT solutions.
      connect to any device, rapidly develop applications, visually model systems, quickly develop new apps. Augmented reality will play a role!
    • create role-based dashboards:
      one for your own operations, another for city.
    • bring the platform to create a citywide platform.
      Sum of connected physical assets, communication networks, and smart city solutions.

Digital Supply Networks: The Smart Factory. Steven Shepley, Deloitte:

  • 3 types of systems: 1) foundational visualization solutions:  KPIs, etc. 2) advanced analytical solutions 3) cyber-physical solutions.
  • Priority smart factory solutions:
    • advanced planning (risk-adjusted MRP), dynamic sequencing, cross network.
    • value chain integration: signal-based customer/supplies integration, dynamic distribution routing/tracking, digital twin.
    • asset efficiency: predictive maintenance, real-time asset tracking intelligence, energy management
    • labor productivity: robotic and cognitive automation, augmented reality-driven efficiency, real-time safety monitoring
    • exponential tech: 3-D printing, drones, flexible robots.
  • How to be successful: think big, start small, scale fast
  • Act differently: multi-disciplinary teams,
  • sensors getting simpler, easier to connect & retrofit. National Connectors particularly good.

Global Smart Home, Smart Enterprise, and Smart Cities IoT Use Cases. Ken Herron, Unified InBox, Pte.

  • new focus on customer
  • H2M: human to machine communication is THE key to IoT success. Respect their interests.
  • Austin TX: “robot whisperer” — industrial robot company. Their robots aging out, getting out of tune, etc. Predictive analytics anticipates problems.
  • Stuttgart: connected cow — if one cow is getting sick, may spread to entire herd. Intervene.
  • Kuala Lumpur: building bot — things such as paper towel dispensers communicating with management.
  • London: Concierge chatbot — shopper browsing can chat with assistant on combining outfits.
  • Dubai: smart camera. Help find your car in mega-shopping center: read license plates, message the camera, it gives you map to the car.
  • Singapore: Shout — for natural disasters. Walks the person making the alert through process, confirms choices.
  • Stuttgart: Feinstaubalarm — occasional very bad airborne dust at certain times. Tells people with lung problems options, such as taking mass transit.
  • Singapore: Smart appliances — I always thought smart fridge was stupid, but in-fridge camera that lets you shoot a “shelfie” does make sense
  • Fulda Germany: smart clothing for military & police: full record of personal health at the moment. Neat!
  • Noida India — smart sneakers can automatically post your run results (see connection to my SmartAging concept)

Business Impact of IoT, Eric Schaeffer, Accenture:

  • Michelin delivery trucks totally reinvented, major fuel savings, other benefits.
  • manufacturing being deconstructed
  • smart, connected products are causing it
  • industrial companies must begin transformation today

Thingworx: Platform for Management Revolution. W. David Stephenson, Stephenson Strategies:

Here are key points from my presentation about how the IoT can allow radical transformation from linear & hierarchical companies to IoT-centric “circular companies” (my entire presentation can be found here):

  • The IoT can be the platform for dramatic management change that was impossible in the past.
  • Making this change requires an extraordinary shift in management thinking: from hierarchy to collaboration.
  • The results will be worth the effort: not only more efficiency & precision, but also new creativity, revenue streams, & customer loyalty. 
  • In short, it will allow total transformation!

Kickstarting America’s Digital Transformation. Aneesh Chopra & Nicholas Thompson!

  • on day one, Our President (not the buffoon) told Chopra he wanted default to be switch from closed to open government & data.
  • National Wireless Initiative: became law 1 yr. after it was introduced.  Nationwide interoperable, secure wireless system.
  • Obama wanted to harness power of Internet to grow the economy. Talked to CIO of P & G, who was focused on opening up the company to get ideas from outside.
  • Thompson big on open data, but he thinks a lot more now is closed, we’re going wrong way.
  • Interesting example of getting down cost of solar to $1 per installed watt!!
  • Thompson: growing feeling that technology isn’t serving us economically. Chopra: need to democratize the benefits.
  • Chopra talking about opening up Labor Dept. data to lead to creative job opportunities for underserved.

 

 

 

 

IoT Intangibles: Increased Customer Loyalty

There are so many direct, quantifiable benefits of the IoT, such as increased quality (that 99.9988% quality rate at Siemens’s Amberg plant!) and precision, that we may forget there are also potential intangible benefits.

Most important of those is customer loyalty, brought about by dramatic shifts both in product designs and how they are marketed.

Much of this results from the IoT lifting the veil of Collective Blindness to which I’ve referred before: in particular, our prior inability to document how products were actually used once they left the loading dock. As I’ve speculated, that probably meant that manufacturers got deceptive information about how customers actually used products and their degree of satisfaction. The difficulty of getting feedback logically meant that those who most liked and most hated a product were over-represented: those who kinda liked it weren’t sufficiently motivated to take the extra steps to be heard.

Now, by contrast, product designers, marketers, and maintenance staffs can share (that critical verb from my Circular Company vision!) real-time data about how a product is actually operating in the field, often from a “digital twin” they can access right at their desks.

Why’s that important?

It can give them easy insights (especially if those different departments do access and discuss the data at the same time, each offering its own unique perspectives, on issues that will build customer loyalty:

  • what new features can we add that will keep them happy?
  • can we offer upgrades such as new operating software (such as the Tesla software that was automatically installed in every single car and avoided a recall) that will provide better customer experiences and keep the product fresh?
  • what possible maintenance problems can we spot in their earliest stages, so we can put “predictive maintenance” services into play at minimal cost and bother to the customer?

I got interested in this issue of product design and customer loyalty while consulting for IBM in the 9o’s, when it introduced the IBM PS 2E (for Energy & Environmental), a CES best-of-show winner in part because of its snap-together modular design. While today’s thin-profile-at-all-costs PC and laptop designs have made user-friendly upgrades a distant memory, one of the things that appealed to me about this design was the realization that if you could keep users satisfied that they were on top of  new developments by incremental substitution of new modules, they’d be more loyal and less likely to explore other providers.

In the same vein, as GE has found, the rapid feedback can dramatically speed upgrades and new features. That’s important for loyalty: if you maintain a continuing interaction with the customer and anticipate their demands for new features, they’ll have less reason to go on the open market and evaluate all of your competitors’ products when they do want to move up.

 

Equally important for customer loyalty is the new marketing options that the continuous flow of real-time operating data offer you. For a growing number of companies, that means they’re no longer selling products, but leasing them, with the price based on actual customer usage: if it ain’t bein’ used, it ain’t costing them anything and it ain’t bringing you any revenue!

Examples include:

  • jet turbines which, because of the real-time data flow, can be marketed on the basis of thrust generated: if it’s sitting on the ground, the leasee doesn’t pay.  The same real-time data flow allows the manufacturer to schedule predictive maintenance at the earliest sign of a problem, reducing both its cost and the impact on the customer.
  • Siemens’s Mobility Services, which add in features such as 3-D manufactured spare parts that speed maintenance and reduced costs, keeping the trains running.
  • Philips’s lighting services, which are billed on the basis of use, not sold.
  • SAP’s prototype smart vending machine, which (if you opt in) may offer you a special discount based on your past purchasing habits.

At its most extreme is Caterpillar’s Reman process, where the company takes back and remanufactures old products, giving them a new life — and creating new revenues — when competitors’ products are in the landfill.

Loyalty can also be a benefit of IoT strategies for manufacturers’ own operations as well. Remember that the technological obstacles to instant sharing of real-time data have been eliminted for the supply chain as well. If you choose to share it, your resupply programs can also be automatically triggered on a M2M basis, giving an inherent advantage to the domestic supplier who can get the needed part there in a few hours, versua the low-cost supplier abroad who may take weeks to reach your loading dock.

It may be harder to quantify than quality improvements or streamlined production through the IoT, but that doesn’t mean that dependable revenue streams from loyal customers aren’t an important potential benefit as well.

Siemens’s Mobility Services: Trains Become IoT Labs on Wheels

George Stephenson's Killingworth locomotive Source: Project Gutenberg

George Stephenson’s Killingworth locomotive
Source: Project Gutenberg

As those of you who know rail history understand, with Stephenson as your last name, you’re bound to have a strong interest in railroads! Add in the fact that I was associate producer of an award-winning documentary on the subject back in the early 70’s, and it’s no wonder I was hooked when I got a chance to meet with some of Siemens’s top rail executives on my trip to Barcelona last week (Disclaimer: Siemens paid my expenses, but didn’t dictate what I covered, nor did they have editorial review of this piece).

What really excites me about railroads and the IoT is that they neatly encapsulate the dramatic transformation from the traditional industrial economy to the IoT: on one hand, the railroad was perhaps THE most critical invention making possible 19th century industry, and yet it still exists, in recognizable but radically-evolved form, in 2016. As you’ll see below, trains have essentially become laboratories on wheels!

I dwelt on the example of the Union Pacific in my e-book introduction to the IoT, SmartStuff, because to CIO Lynden Tennison was an early adopter, with his efforts focused largely on reducing the number of costly and dangerous derailments, through measures such as putting infrared sensors every twenty miles along the rail bed to spot “hotboxes,” overheating bearings. That allowed an early version of what we now know as predictive maintenance, pulling cars off at the next convenient yard so the bearings could be replaced before a serious problem. Even though the technology even five years ago was primitive compared to today, the UP cut bearing-related derailments by 75%.

Fast-forward to 2016, and Siemens’s application of the IoT to trains through its Mobility Services is yielding amazing benefits: increasing reliability, cutting costs, and even leading to possible new business models. They’ve taken over maintenance for more than 50 rail and transit programs.

While I love IoT startups with a radical new vision and no history to encumber them, Siemens is a beacon to those companies firmly rooted in manufacturing which may wonder whether to incorporate the IoT in their services and strategy. I suspect that its software products are inherently more valuable than competitors from pure-play software firms at commercial launch because the company eats its own dogfood and applies the new technology first to the products it manufactures and maintains — closing the loop.

Several of its executives emphasized that one of the advantages Siemens feels they enjoy is that their software engineers in Munich work in a corner of an old locomotive factory that Siemens still operates, so they can interact with those actually building and maintaining the engines on a daily basis. When it comes to security issues, their experience as a manufacturer means they understand the role of each component of the signaling system. Dr. Sebastian Schoning, ceo of Siemens client Gehring Technologies, which manufactures precision honing tools, told me that it was easier to sell these digital services to its own client base because so much of their current products include Siemens devices, giving them confidence in the new offerings. GE enjoys the same advantages of combining manufacturing and digital services with its Evolution Series locomotives.

The key to Siemens’s Mobility Services is Sinalytics, its platform architecture for data analysis not just for rail, but also for industries ranging from medical equipment to wind farms. More than 300,000 devices currently feed real-time data to the platform,   Consistent with my IoT-centric “Circular Company” vision, Sinalytics capitalizes on the data for multiple uses, including connectivity, data integration, analytics, and the all-important cyber security — they call the result not Big Data, but Smart Data. As with data services from jet turbine manufacturers such as Rolls Royce and GE, the platform also allows merging the data with data from sources such as weather forecasts which, in combination, can let clients optimize operating efficiency on a real-time M2M basis.  

With the new approach, trains become IoT laboratories on wheels, combining all of the key elements of an IoT system:

  • Sensing: there are sensors on the engines and gearboxes, plus vibration sensors on  microphones measure noises from bearings in commuter trains. They can even measure how engine oil is aging, so it can be changed when really needed, rather than on an arbitrary schedule.
  • Algorithms to make sense of the data and act on it. They read out patterns, record deviations & compare them with train control systems or vehicles of the same type.
  • Predictive maintenance replaces scheduled maintenance, dramatically reducing down-time and catastrophic failure.For example: “There’s a warning in one of the windows (of the control center display): engine temperature unusual. ‘We need to analyze the situation in greater depth to know what to do next  — we call it  ‘root cause analysis,” (say) Vice-President for Customer Support Herbert Padinger. ‘We look at its history and draw on comparative data from the fleet as a whole.’ Clicking on the message opens a chart showing changes in temperature during the past three months. The increased heat is gradually traced to a signal assembly. The Siemens experts talk with the customer to establish how urgent the need for action is, and then takes the most appropriate steps.”  He says that temperature and vibration analyses from the critical gearboxes gives Siemens at least three days advance notice of a breakdown — plenty of time for maintenance or replacement.  Predictive maintenance is now the norm for 70-80% of Siemens’s repairs.
  • Security (especially important given all of the miles of track and large crowds on station platforms): it includes video-based train-dispatch and platform surveillance using its SITRAIL D system, as well as cameras in the trains. The protections have to run the gamut from physical attacks to cyber attacks.  For security, the data is shared by digital radio, not networks also shared by consumers.

When operations are digitized, it allows seamlessly integrating emerging digital technologies into the services. Siemens Digital Services also included augmented reality (so repair personnel can see manuals on heads-up displays), social collaboration platforms, and — perhaps most important — 3-D printing-based additive manufacturing, so that replacement parts can be delivered with unprecedented speed. 3-D printing also allows dramatic reduction in parts inventories and allows replacement of obsolete parts that may no longer be available through conventional parts depots or even — get this — to improve on the original part’s function and/or durability, based on practical experience gained from observing the parts in use.  Siemens has used 3-D printing for the past last 3 years, and it lets them assure that they will have replacements for the locomotive’s entire lifespan, which can exceed 30 years.

The results of the new approach are dramatic.

  • None of the Velaro trains that Siemens maintains for several operators have broken down since Sinalytics was implemented. Among those in Spain only 1 has left more than 15 min. behind time in 2,300 trips: .0004%!
  • Reliability for London’s West Coast Mainline is 99.7%

  • Perhaps most impressive, because of the extreme cold conditions it must endure, the reliability rate for the Velaro service in Russia is 99.9%!

Their ultimate goal is a little higher: what Siemens calls (pardon the pun) 100% Railability (TM).

And, consistent with what other companies find when they fully implement not only IoT technology, but also what I like to call “IoT Thinking,” when it does reach those previously inconceivable quality benchmarks, the company predicts that, as the software and sensors evolve, the next stage will be new business models in which billing will be determined by guaranteeing customers availability and performance.

PS: I’ll be posting more about my interviews with Siemens officials and the Gartner event in coming days.

High-speed 3D Printer & IoT Could Really Revolutionize Design & Manufacturing

There’s a new high-speed 3D printer on the horizon which, coupled with the IoT, could really revolutionize product design and manufacturing.

I’ve raved in the past about 3D printing’s revolutionary potential, but I’ll admit I was still thinking primarily in terms of rapid prototyping and one-off repair parts.  Now, according to Bloomberg, HP is going to transfer its ink-jet printer expertise to the 3D printer field, with a $130,000 model set for release later this year that, for the first time, could make 3D printing practical and affordable for large-scale manufacturing, with “parts at half the expense and at least 10 times faster than rival printers — and likely [using] lower-cost materials.”

Combined with the IoT, that would go a long way toward making my “precision manufacturing” vision a reality, with benefits including less waste, streamlined products (a single part replacing multiple ones that previously had to be combined into the final configuration),  factories that are less reliant on outside parts and encouraging mass customization of products that would delight customers. 

Customers are already lining up, and see manufacturing-scale 3D printing as a game-changer:

Jabil Circuit Inc. [itself a digital supply-chain innovator] plans to be an early adopter of HP’s device, printing end plastic parts for aerospace, auto and industrial applications that it currently makes using processes such as injection molding, John Dulchinos, vice president of digital manufacturing at the electronics-manufacturing service provider, said in an interview.

“‘We have use cases in each of these segments,’ Dulchinos said. ‘Parts that are in hundreds or thousands or tens of thousands of units — it’s cheaper to 3D print them than mold them.’”

Other HP partners in the venture include BMW, Nike, and and Johnson & Johnson. The article cites research by Wohlers Associates predicting that manufacturing using 3D printers could “eventually grab at least 5 percent of the worldwide manufacturing economy, and translate into $640 billion in annual sales.”

3D Systems is also making the transition to large-scale 3D printing.

As I’ve written before in regard to GE’s leadership in the field, toss in some nanotech on the side, and you’ve really got something.

 

Distributed Manufacturing by 3D Printing Revolution for IoT Comes of Age!

Two major developments in the 3-D printing world, from Fictiv and (who woulda thunk it!) UPS, make me think the time has come for “distributing manufacturing” and getting away from the old massive, manufacturing mentality exemplified by Ford’s River Rouge plant.

OK, first a confession and a little history. Being short & named David, I’ve always had a fascination with David & Goliath, and you can bet who I’d root for. I also was deeply touched by two visionaries in my past:

  • Steve Clay-Young, who used to run the workshop at the old Boston Architectural Center & turned me on to a neat, nearly-forgotten bit of WWII history: either Popular Science or Popular Mechanix (can’t remember which), organized a network of hobbyists with metal lathes, who played a major role in the war effort. The magazine published plans for turning metal for munitions, and these guys each worked in their workshops to make them.
  • Eric Drexler, the nano-tech guru, spoke at the Eco-Tech conference in the ’90s about his vision of a bread-box-size gizmo on your kitchen counter that would churn out all sorts of customized products for you.

Now, it’s all taking place, and I suspect 3D printing will be a crucial element in the IoT-based transformation of the economy.

 

                                   Fictiv distributed manufacturing model

Fictiv is a startup founded to “democratize manufacturing,” which just went public with its new “distributed manufacturing” service using a nationwide network of 3D high quality printers and CNC machines:

 

“We route parts to machine with open capacity so you don’t wait 5 days for a part that takes 5 hours…. We aggregate orders so every customer receives the benefits of large purchasing power….”

Perhaps coolest, “Parts are produced as close to customers as possible to reduce inefficiencies in logistics and shipping lead-time”  so that (for an extra charge) they’re fabricated and delivered in 24 hours, and otherwise delivered in two days.  I suspect that, just as having sensors on their products that results in real-time feedback allowing GE to compress the design cycle, especially upgrades, that this proximity and quick turn-around will allow designers to radically alter the design process by “failing rapidly,” just the way early spread-sheet software allowed business managers to do “what-if” hypotheticals for the first time.

By bundling orders, they give startups the bargaining power of large companies.As co-founder Dave Evans, an experienced product design pro, says, distributed, local manufacturing can even the playing field for smaller companies, especially startups just designing their first products:

“When ordering from a large manufacturing company, parts need to navigate through their complex system and then be shipped from the machine warehouse direct to the customer, increasing lead times.

From an engineer’s perspective, when you’re in the prototyping and ideation stages, time is everything and even a 1-2 day loss from a 3PL (third-party logistics player) matters significantly.

What’s important to consider here is that in manufacturing, things can and will go wrong. So when remote manufacturers inevitably have to manage errors, there’s a lot of complexity to deal with …. This is very evident in overseas mass manufacturing, which is why companies put engineers as close to the source as possible. It’s amazing how few companies consider the same principles during the early prototyping stages of a product when time is everything.

The beauty in working with smaller, local manufacturers on the other hand, is that parts can be picked up as soon as they’re ready or delivered via same-day courier, saving you the 1-2 days of shipping. In addition, if things go wrong (they always do), smaller shops have more agility, fewer organizational layers, and in general can respond more quickly compared with their larger counterparts.”

              3D printing at The UPS Store

Equally important is the continuing stream of 3D services being offered by UPS. which recently announced a nationwide on-demand 3D printing network.  The network will combine 3D printers at more than 60 The UPS Stores® and Fast Radius’ On Demand Production Platform™ and 3D printing factory in Louisville, KY. My friends at SAP will marry its SAP’s extended supply chain solutions will be integrated with the UPS 3D network and — most important — its global logistics network “to simplify the industrial manufacturing process from digitization, certification, order-to-manufacturing and delivery.”

If I’m correct, the UPS network will concentrate on prototyping at this point, but it’s easy to see that it could soon have a dramatic impact on the replacement parts industry. Why should the manufacturer warehouse a large supply of spare parts, just because they might be needed, when they could instead simply transmit the part’s digital file to the nearest UPS 3D printer, generate the part, and use UPS to deliver it in a fraction of the time.

Combine that with the predictive maintenance possible with feedback from sensors on products, and you truly have a revolution in product design and maintenance as well as manufacturing. It would also foster the IoT-based circular company vision that I’ve been pushing, because supply chain, manufacturing, distribution, and maintenance would all be linked in a great circle.

Sweet!

 

 

The IoT Will Reinvent Replacement Parts Industry

Of all the Internet of Things’ revolutionary impacts on industry, perhaps none will be as dramatic as on replacement parts, where it will team with 3-D printing to reduce service time, inventory and costs.

I came to that realization circuitously, upon noticing Warren Buffett’s blockbuster purchase of Precision Castparts, the major precision parts supplier to the aeronautics industry.  Having read last year about yet another breakthrough innovation by Elon Musk, i.e., the first totally 3-D printed rocket engines, I was curious to see what Precision was doing in that area.  Unless my search of their website was flawed, the answer is zip, and that suggests to me that Buffett, who famously once said he doesn’t invest in technology because he doesn’t understand it, may have just bought …. a rather large dinosaur.

I noticed that one of Precision’s biggest customers is GE, which not only is using 3-D jet fuel nozzles on its engines but also ran a high-profile contest to design a 3-D printed engine mount that was open to you, me and the kids trying out the new 3-D printer at our little town’s library (note to Mr. Buffett: might be good to schedule a sit-down with Jeff Immelt before one of your biggest customers takes things in-house). As I’ve written before, not only is GE a world leader in the IoT and 3-D printing, but also in my third magic bullet, nanotech: put all three together, and you’re really talking revolution!

OK, I know 3-D printing is sloow (in its current state), so it’s unlikely to replace traditional assembly lines at places such as Precision Castparts for large volumes of parts, but that doesn’t mean it won’t rapidly replace them in the replacement parts area.  I talked to a friend several years ago whose biz consists of being a broker between power plants that need replacement parts yesterday and others with an excess on hand, and couldn’t help thinking his days were numbered, because it was predicated on obsolete technology — and thinking.

Think of how the combined strengths of the IoT and 3-D printing can help a wide range of industries get replacement parts when and where they need them, and at potentially lower cost:

  • sensors in IoT-enabled devices will give advance notice of issues such as metal fatigue, so that repairs can be done sooner (“predictive maintenance“), with less disruption to normal routine, cheaper and reducing the chance of catastrophic failure.
  • because data can be shared on a real-time by not only your entire workforce, but also your supply chain, you can automate ordering of replacement parts.
  • perhaps most important, instead of a supplier having to maintain a huge inventory of replacement parts on the possibility they may be needed, they can instead be produced only when needed, or at least with a limited inventory (such as replacing a part in inventory as one is ordered). This may lead to “re-shoring” of jobs, because you will no longer have to deal with a supplier on the other side of the globe: it might be in the next town, and the part could be delivered as soon as printed, saving both delay and money.
  • your company may have your own printer, and you will simply pay the OEM for the digital file to print a part in-house, rather than having to deal with shipping, etc.

And, as I mentioned in the  earlier post about GE’s leadership in this area, there are other benefits as well:

  • “We’ll no longer do subtractive processes, where a rough item is progressively refined until it is usable.  Instead, products will be built atom-by-atom, in additive processes where they will emerge exactly in the form they’re sold.
  • “Products will increasingly be customized to the customer’s exact specifications. The products will be further fine-tuned based on a constant flow of data from the field about how customers actually use them.”

Sooo, Mr. Buffett, it’s time that you come to terms with 21-st century technology or Berkshire Hathaway’s financial slide may continue.

 

GE & IBM make it official: IoT is here & now & you ignore it at your own risk!

Pardon my absence while doing the annual IRS dance.

While I was preoccupied, GE and IBM put the last nail in the coffin of those who are waiting to launch IoT initiatives and revise their strategy until the Internet of Things is more ….. (supply your favorite dismissive wishy-washy adjective here).

It’s official: the IoT is here, substantive, and profitable.

Deal with it.

To wit:

The two blue-chips’ moves were decisive and unambiguous. If you aren’t following suit, you’re in trouble.

The companies accompanied these bold strategic moves with targeted ones that illustrate how they plan to transform their companies and services based on the IoT and related technologies such as 3-D printing and Big Data:

  • GE, which has become a leader in 3-D printing, announced its first FAA-approved 3-D jet engine part, housing a jet’s compressor inlet temperature sensor. Sensors and 3-D printing: a killer combination.
  • IBM, commercializing its gee-whiz Watson big data processing system, launched Watson Health in conjunction with Apple and Johnson & Johnson, calling it “our moonshot” in health care, hoping to transform the industry.  Chair Ginny Rometty said that:

“The Watson Health Cloud platform will ‘enable secure access to individualized insights and a more complete picture of the many factors that can affect people’s health,’ IBM says each person generates one million gigabytes of health-related data across his or her lifetime, the equivalent of more than 300 million books.”

There can no longer be any doubt that the Internet of Things is a here-and-now reality. What is your company doing to catch up to the leaders and share in the benefits?

 

Is GE the future of manufacturing? IoT + nanotech + 3D-printing

The specific impetus for this post was an article in The Boston Globe about heart stents that fit perfectly because they’re 3-D printed individuallly for each patient.

GE jet engine 3-D-printed fuel nozzle

That prompted me to think of how manufacturing may change when three of my favorite technologies — nanotech, 3-D printing and the Internet of Things — are fully mature and synergies begin (as I’m sure they will) to emerge between the three.

I’m convinced we’ll see an unprecedented combination of:

  • waste elimination: we’ll no longer do subtractive processes, where a rough item is progressively refined until it is usable.  Instead, products will be built atom-by-atom, in additive processes where they will emerge exactly in the form they’re sold.
  • as with the stents, products will increasingly be customized to the customer’s exact specifications.
  • the products will be further fine-tuned based on a constant flow of data from the field about how customers actually use them.

Guess what?  The same company is in on the cutting edge of all three: General Electric (no, I’m not on their payroll, despite all my fawning attention to them!):

  • Their Industrial Internet IoT initiative is resulting in dramatic changes to their products, with built-in sensors that relay data constantly to GE and the customer about the product’s current status, allowing predictive maintenance practices that cuts repair costs, optimizing the device’s performance for more economical operations, and even allowing GE to switch from selling products to leasing them, with the lease price determined dynamically using factors such as how many hours the products are actually used.  Not only that, but they practice what they preach, with 10,000 sensors on the assembly line at their Durathon battery plant in Schenectady, plus sensors in the batteries themselves, allowing managers to roam the plant with an iPad to get instant readings on the assembly line’s real-time operation, to fine-tune the processes, and to be able to spot defective batteries while they are still in production, so that 100% of the batteries shipped will work.
    They’re also able to push products out the door more rapidly and updating them quicker based on the huge volumes of data they gather from sensors built into the products: “… G.E. is adopting practices like releasing stripped-down products quickly, monitoring usage and rapidly changing designs depending on how things are used by customers. These approaches follow the ‘lean start-up’ style at many software-intensive Internet companies. “’We’re getting these offerings done in three, six, nine months,’ he [William Ruh] said. ‘It used to take three years.’”
  • They’ve made a major commitment to 3-D printing, with 100,000 3-D printed parts scheduled to be built into their precision LEAP jet engines — a big deal, since there’s not a great deal of fault tolerance in something that may plunge to the earth if it malfunctions! As Bloomberg reported, “The finished product is stronger and lighter than those made on the assembly line and can withstand the extreme temperatures (up to 2,400F) inside an engine.”  They’re making major investments to boost the 3-D printers’ capacity and speed.  Oh, and did I mention their precedent-setting contest to crowd-source the invention of a 3-D printed engine mount?
  • They’re also partnering with New York State on perhaps the most visionary technology of all, nanotech, which manipulates materials on the molecular level. GE will focus on cheap silicon carbide wafers, which beat silicon chips in terms of efficiency and power, leading to smaller and lighter devices.

GE is the only member of the original Dow-Jones Index (in 1884) that still exists. As I’ve said before, I’m astounded that they not only get it about IoT technology, but also the new management practices such as sharing data that will be required to fully capitalize on it.

Thomas A. Edison is alive and well!

My O’Reilly blog post about how the IoT will transform manufacturing

Posted on 29th April 2014 in 3-D printing, Internet of Things, M2M, manufacturing

Woopiedoo! I have a post in today’s O’Reilly SOLID blog (which is, among other things, promoting their SOLID conference in SF next month) about how the Internet of Things will transform manufacturing.

In it, I emphasized the manufacturing variation on the two transformative aspects of the IoT that I think will characterize its effect on every aspect of our lives and economy:

  1. for the first time, we will have real-time information on the current state of all sorts of things
  2. we will also be able to share that information, again, on a real-time basis, with everyone who could benefit from that information.

We’re already starting to see signs of that transformation, with GE’s Durathon battery factory (with 10,000 sensors on the assembly line plus others designed into the batteries themselves), SAP’s Future Factory, and Siemens’ Electronic Works factory.  As the price, size and energy demands of sensors continues to plummet, the trend will accelerate.

As a result, manufacturing will no longer be isolated from real-time activities in the rest of the enterprise:

  • “Designing sensors into products, rather than adding them on retroactively, will allow companies to identify defective products immediately, rather than waiting for post-production testing.
  • The built-in sensors will also allow companies to create new revenue streams. They will be able to sell customers real-time data on product operations that will allow the customers to optimize their use, and they may also choose, instead of selling the products, to lease them, with the price determined dynamically based on how much the product is actually used — take, for instance, jet turbines that are now priced on the basis of how many hours they actually operate.
  • The product design cycle will accelerate. Companies will be able to monitor a product’s actual usage in the field, then implement more rapid upgrades.
  • ‘Just-in-time’ supply chains will become even more efficient as real-time production data triggers resupply orders, just as distribution systems will become more closely integrated on the other end of the production cycle.”

The SOLID conference focuses on the convergence of hardware and software. It’s about time the two are fully integrated, and the results will be incredible!