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.

 

My IoT Day Interview With Sudha Jamthe

Oops: I’ve been preoccupied with all sorts of dreck since returning from my SAP event, so I haven’t been able to post.

Did want to call your attention to a long IoT Day interview I did with the estimable Sudha Jamthe, author of The Internet of Things Business Primer.  We covered a range of topics, including the state of the IoT in Boston (and my enthusiasm about GE’s move here, because of their track record of working with IoT startups and even individuals), how I got involved in my IoT-based “SmartAging” crusade, and how the IoT may make possible “circular enterprises” orbiting around real-time IoT data.  Enjoy!

Live Blogging from SAP’s SCM CRM IoT 2016 – Day 2

Greg Gorbach, ARC Advisory Group, Industrial Internet of Things:

  • ARC is an analyst firm, in Boston.
  • new service models
  • new products
  • new production techniques
  • new business processes
  • new competitors
  • new partners
  • new workers
  • new business opportunities.
  • innovation improves competitiveness: value-based competitiveness raises value of output.
  • Drivers:
    • reduced machine or asset downtime
    • more rapid service response
    • improved process performance
    • improved personnel productivity
    • reduced machine or asset lifecycle costs
    • improved asset utilization/RoA
    • opportunity for business innovation
    • ability to sell products as a service
  • manufacturing momentum for digital transformation: factors include 3D printing, IoT technologies, changing economies of scale, new service models
  • goal is digital transformation
  • software transitioning from monolithic to microservices

Richard Howells, SAP:

  • IoT is all about re-imaging things:business process, customer experiences
  • SAP solutions for IoT
    • SAP Connected Assets
    • SAP Connected Manufacturing
    • SAP Network Logistics Hub
    • SAP Augmented Reality Solutions
  • SAP Predictive Maintenance and Service: leverage operational insights to drive innovation & new business models
    • Deere putting sensors everywhere, doing predictive maintenance of tractors. In some cases, leasing instead of selling, so they have incentive to keep it operating.
    • Kaeser Compressors
    • Asset Intelligence Network
    • Connective Manufacturing: leveraging big data to drive new insights into operations.
      • Example of Harley Plant in York, Pa.  Many new design options (1,700 options), but do 25% more bikes with 30% fewer people. Went from 21 days for a custom cycle top 6 hours.
      • Pepsi: improving asset utilization with SAP Connected Manufacturing: collect all downtime and loss data in real time.  Went from 65 to 85% asset use.
    • SAP Networked Logistics Hub
    • SAP AR Warehouse Picker
    • SAP AR Service Technician

Where is IoT going??

  • 68% of companies see IoT being strategic or transformational to their business.
  • 78% plan to invest in IoT  in next 24 mo. — 24% already have.
  • Increasing productivity and improving customer experience are top business benefits
  • Challenges to deploying IoT include unclear ROI, lack of industry standards, costs, and data security.

 

Next was my presentation on “Getting Started With the IoT,” in which I emphasized that companies that have hung back from the IoT are still in the majority, but had better heed John Chambers’ warning that they’ll be toast in just a few years if they don’t start now.  I emphasized that an ideal early focus is to build the efficiency or “precision” of your existing operations, and to build operating safety (especially in inherently dangerous settings such as construction sites), then move on to more radical transformation.  I cited GE’s rather modest goal (I think they’re understating it, based on their own internal results) of a 1% increase in productivity for the IoT as something that most companies could achieve, and then talked about GE’s Brilliant Factories as a model for increasing operating efficiency, zeroing in on my favorite example, the Durathon Battery plant, where a sensor on every battery and 10,000 on the assembly line give them tremendous flexibility to cope with differing situations and to increase efficiency.  Finally, I suggested that the companies begin to rethink the role of their products and to begin considering the “circular enterprise” vision I’ve articulated as they look to the future.


 

Kris Gorrepati, SAP “IoT: from Big Data to Smart Data to Outcomes.”

  • OK, I’d never heard of a Brontobyte before…
  • “IoT relevant to all industries.” Agreed.
  • Amazon Dash service (Whirlpool now building it in!)
  • Uses same curve that other SAP guys do: from connect to transform to reimagine (latter being empowering new biz models, value-added products and services.
  • HANA Cloud Platform for the IoT.

Digital Twins: the Ultimate in Internet of Things Real-Time Monitoring

Get ready for the age when every product will have a “digital twin” back at the manufacturer, a perfect copy of not just the product as it left the factory floor, but as it is functioning in the field right now. That will be yet another IoT game-changer in terms of my 4th IoT Essential Truth, “rethink products.”

Oh, and did I forget to mention that we’ll each have a personal body twin from birth, to improve our health?

For the first time we’ll really understand products, how they work, what’s needed to improve them, and even how they may be tweaked once they’re thousands of miles from the factory, to add new features, fix problems, and/or optimize efficiency.

Key to circular organizations

Even better, the twin can play a critical role in accomplishing my vision of new circular organizations (replacing obsolete hierarchies and linear processes), in which all relevant departments and functions (and even supply chain members, distribution networks and customers, where relevant) form a continuous circle with real-time IoT data as the hub).  Think of the twin as one of those manifestations of the real-time data to which all departments will have simultaneous access.

GE Digital Twin visualization

               GE Digital Twin visualization

I’ve often remarked how incredible it was that companies (especially manufacturers) were able to function as well as they did and produce products as functional as they were despite the inability to peek inside them and really understand their operations and/or problems. Bravo, industrial pioneers!

However, that’s no longer good enough, and that’s where digital twins come in.  In a WSJ blog post this week, General Electric’s William Ruh, my fav IoT visionary/pragmatist, talked about how the company, as part of its “Industrial Internet” transformation, is making digital twins a key tool:

“Every product out there will have one, and there will be an ability to connect a system, or systems of digital twins, easily. The digital twin is a model of an asset, a product such as a jet engine or a model of the blades in a jet engine. Sensors on those blades pull the data off and feed them into the digital twin. The digital twin is kept current with the data that is run off the sensors. It is in sync with the reality of the blade. Now we can ask what is the best time to change the blade, how the blade performs, options to get greater efficiency.”

Proof of the pudding?

Ruh says they’ve created a wind turbine and twin they call the “Digital Windfarm,” which generates 20% more electricity than a nearby conventional turbine.

PTC is also working on digital twins. According to the company’s Executive VP for Digital Twin, Mike Campbell,:  “It’s a model that uniquely represents a physical occurrence in the real world. This one-­to­one mapping is important. You create a relationship between the digital data and a unique product occurrence from a variety of sources: sensors, enterprise data on how it was made, what its configuration was, its geometry, how it is being used, and how it is being serviced.”

Predix

The key to digital twins is GE’s “Predix” predictive analytics software platform, which the company is extending across its entire product line. As always, the key is a constant stream of real-time data:

“weather, component messages, service reports, performance of similar models in GE’s fleets—a predictive model is built and the data collected is turned into actionable insights. This model can perform advanced planning, such as forecasting a ‘plan of the day’ for turbine operation, determining a highly efficient strategy to execute planned maintenance activities, and providing warnings about upcoming unplanned maintenance events, all of which ultimately generates more output and revenue for the customer.”

Digital doppelgängers

Here’s where the really sci-fi part kicks in: Ruh also predicts (Predix??, LOL) that GE’s medical division will soon create digital twins for you and me — at birth!

“I believe we will have a digital twin at birth, and it will take data off of the sensors everybody is running, and that digital twin will predict things for us about disease and cancer and other things. I believe we will end up with health care being the ultimate digital twin. Without it, I believe we will have data but with no outcome, or value.”

And, frankly, there’s also a spooky aspect to what GE’s doing, working with retailers to create psychographic models of customers based on their buying preferences. I’m dubious on that account: I do appreciate some suggestion about what might interest me, especially books, based on my past purchases. On the other hand, a couple of weeks I shopped for — but didn’t buy — biz cards online. Now, I get AdSense ads for these cards everywhere — even on this homepage (sorry for stuff that isn’t IoT, dear reader) Get over it, OK? Count me out when it get’s down to really granular psychographic profiles — too many risks with privacy and security.

I suspect digital twins will become a staple of the IoT, yielding critical real-time info on product status that will enable predictive maintenance and, as Ruh has written elsewhere, speeding the product upgrade process because, for the first time, designers will know exactly how the products are functioning in the field, as opposed to the total lack of information that used to be the norm. Stay tuned.

Testing the IoT Waters: 1st Steps in Creating an IoT Corporate Strategy

What if you’re interested in the Internet of Things, but are a little scared of making a major commitment and making major expenditures until you build your familiarity level and start to enjoy some tangible results?

That concern is understandable, especially when prognosticators such as I emphasize what a transformational impact the IoT will have on every aspect of your operations and strategy.

So where to begin?

I’ll speak on this issue at SAP’s  IoT 2016 Conference, Feb. 16-19, in Las Vegas, and hope you can attend. But, if not, or if a teaser might convince you to make the plunge, here’s a summary of my major points, which I hope will motivate you to act sooner, rather than later!

Managing_the_Internet_of_Things_RevolutionThis is an issue that I first visited with my “Managing the Internet of Things Revolution” e-guide to IoT strategy for C-level executives, which I wrote in 2014 for SAP, and which has been successful enough that they’ve translated it into eight languages.

I suggested that the best reason to begin now on creating and executing an IoT strategy was that a lot of the requisite tools for an IoT strategy were also critical to optimize your current operations:

  • invest now in analytical tools (such as SAP’s HANA!), so that you can make sense of the rapidly-expanding amount of data (especially unstructured data) that you are already collecting, with new benefits including predictive analytics that allow you to better predict the future.
  • even before capital equipment is redesigned to incorporate sensors that will yield 24/7 real-time data on their operations and status, consider add-on sensors where available, so you can take the guesswork out of operations.
  • where possible, process sensor data “at the edge,” so that only the relevant data will be conveyed to your processing hub, reducing storage and central processing demands.
  • develop or contract for cloud storage, to handle vastly increased data.
GE Brilliant Factory benefits

GE Brilliant Factory benefits

As I’ll explain my speech, even without launching any major IoT projects such as product redesign or converting products into services, initial IoT projects such as these will dramatically boost your profits and efficiency by allowing unprecedented precision in operations.  I’ll emphasize the example of GE, whose “Brilliant Factory” initiative is aimed at increasing both its own manufacturing efficiency and its customers’ as well. They make a modest, but astonishing claim:

“GE estimates that a 1% improvement in its productivity across its global manufacturing base translates to $500 million in annual savings. Worldwide, GE thinks a 1% improvement in industrial productivity could add $10 trillion to $15 trillion to worldwide GDP over the next 15 years.”

Remember: that’s not exploiting the full potential of the IoT, but simply using it to boost operating efficiency. I see this as bringing about an era of “Precision Manufacturing,” because everyone who needs real-time data about the assembly line and production machinery will be able to share it instantly — including not only all departments within your company but also your supply chain and your distribution network.

In many cases, resupply will be automatic, through M2M processes where data from the assembly line will automatically trigger supply re-orders (and may lead to reshoring of jobs, because the advantages of true “just-in-time” delivery of parts from a supplier located a few miles away will outweigh the benefits of using one on the other side of the world, where delivery times are measured in weeks).  Instead of the current linear progression from supply chain to factory floor to distribution network, we’ll have a continuous loop uniting all of those components, with real-time IoT data as the “hub.”

Again, without making a full-fledged commitment to the IoT, another benefit that I’ll detail is how you’ll be able to dramatically improve workplace safety, especially inherently chaotic and fast-changing worksites such as construction projects and harbors, whose common elements include unpredictable schedules, many companies and contractors, many workers, and many vehicles — a recipe for disaster given current conditions!  However, the combination of simply putting location sensors on the equipment, vehicle, and people can radically decrease the risk. For example,  in Dubai — home to 25% of all construction cranes in the world — SAP partnered with a worldwide leader in construction site safety, SK Solutions. Sensors are located on machinery throughout every site, reporting real-time details about every activity: machinery’s position, movement, weight, and inertia and critical data from other sources (as with the GE Durathon factory’s use of weather data), including wind speed and direction, temperature, and more. Managers can detect potential collisions, and an auto-pilot makes instant adjustments to eliminate operator errors. “The information is delivered on dashboards and mobile devices, visualized with live 3-D images with customizable views.”

As I’ll tell the conference attendees,

“Equally incredible is the change at the Port of Hamburg, Germany’s biggest port, which must juggle 9 million containers and 12,000 vessels a year, not to mention a huge number of trucks and trains. You can imagine the potential for snarls and accidents. Since installing HANA, all of these components, including the drivers and other operators, are linked in real time.  Average waiting time for each truckload has been cut 5 minutes,  and there are 5,000 fewer truck hours daily. The coordination has gotten so precise that, if a trucker will be held up by a bridge opening, the nearby coffee shop will send a discount coupon to his iPad.”

I’ll conclude by mentioning a couple of the long-term components of an IoT strategy, such as redesigning products so that they can be controlled by apps and/or feedback constant information on their status, and considering whether to market products instead as services, where the customer only pays for the products when they’re actually being used, and creating optional data services that customers may choose to buy because they’ll allow the customer to optimize operating efficiency.

But the latter are the long-term challenges and benefits.  For now, I’ll tell the audience that the important thing is to begin now investing in the analytical tools and sensors that will help them boost efficiency.

Hope you can be there!


Oh yeah. Why get started on your IoT strategy now, rather than wait a few more years? Last year, former Cisco Chairman John Chambers said that 40% of the companies attending a recent seminar wouldn’t survive in a “meaningful way” within 10 years if they don’t begin now to embrace the IoT. Sobering, huh?

Why Am I Not Surprised? GE Does It Again As IoT Innovator

POST-SCRIPT : LATE-BREAKING NEWS: GE WILL ANNOUNCE TOMORROW THAT THEY’RE MOVING THEIR WORLD HEADQUARTERS TO BOSTON.  EVEN THOUGH THE HEART OF THE COMPANY’S INDUSTRIAL INTERNET STRATEGY WILL REMAIN ITS SOFTWARE CENTER IN SILICON VALLEY, THIS SHOULD INEVITABLY BOOST BOSTON’S STATURE IN THE IoT: WE’RE ALREADY RANKED 4TH IN THE WORLD.


PROMINENT DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT ON THE GENERAL ELECTRIC PAYROLL, AS AMAZING AS THAT MAY SEEM CONSIDERING ALL THE NICE THINGS I SAY ABOUT THEM.

C by GE smart bulbs

Whether it’s their incredible Durathon battery plant or the 220-ton computer-on-wheels Evolution loco, I don’t think there’s any major company that gets it more about the IoT, or, as they brand it, the Industrial Internet. As I’ve said before, it’s not just IoT products, but also “IoT Thinking” (collaboration, closing the loop, etc.) on their part. So why am I not surprised that they’ve gone back to their roots and come up with the most practical smart bulb so far, the “C by GE” bulbs?

Surely the Wizard of Menlo Park is smiling down on them for this one!

This is not to take away from the pioneering Philips Hue bulbs (16 million colors? You kidding?), or the neat Playbulb ones that double as speakers, but it seems to me these are the ones so far (possible exception, the $15 Cree ones — although I’ve not been happy with short life-span of my earlier Cree LEDs….) but these seem to me to combine some kewl new features that weren’t available before smart bulbs with affordability: a kit of 4 will be priced at $50 if you order online.

So what’s the big deal? Unlike the HUEs and GE’s earlier Link LED, these won’t require linking to a hub to control them: they link to your phone directly, using Bluetooth.

The bulbs will come in two flavors, to start with: a plain-vanilla dimmable one for most rooms of the house, and the spiffy “C Sleeps” for the bedroom, which will allow you to choose three different color hues, including a bright white to energize yourself on waking, a middling one for most of the day, and a yellowish one that research has shown to be more sleep-inducing, for night time (for you wonks, here’s the science).

Equally important, according to C|NET, they’ll also be more affordable than other multi-hue bulbs:

“The C Sleep LEDs won’t be the first color-tunable smart LEDs on the market, but they’ll certainly be some of the most affordable. The Osram Lightify Starter Kit comes with just a single bulb and costs $60, while the Lifx White 800 LED costs $40. With two color-tunable bulbs plus two standard smart bulbs for $50, C by GE definitely looks like the better value. What’s more, GE is promising limited early-bird pricing that will bring the cost of a starter pack down to $40 for those willing to buy in at launch.”

Because it’s Bluetooth controlled you won’t be able to control it from outside the house, so I’m gonna have to stick with my WeMo sockets to make my wife happy, but supposedly it will work with the Apple HomeKit (“Siri, it’s time for bed”) or if you already have a Wink hub.

Once again, Thanks, Jeff Immelt!

PS: $1.92 a yr. in electric costs: they’ll help save the planet as well

 

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?

 

Lifting the Veil After the Sale: another IoT “Essential Truth”

Count me among those who believe the Internet of Things will affect every aspect of corporate operations, from manufacturing to customer relations.

Perhaps one of the most dramatic impacts will be on the range of activities that take place after the sale, including maintenance, product liability, product upgrades and customer relations.

In the past, this has been a prime example of the “Collective Blindness” that afflicted us before the IoT, because we basically had no idea what happened with our products once they left the factory floor.

In fact, what little data we did have probably served to distort our impressions of how products were actually used. Because there was no direct way to find out how the products were actually used, negative data was probably given exaggerated weight: we heard negative comments (warrantee claims, returns, liability lawsuits, etc.), loud and clear, but there was no way to find out how the majority of customers who were pleased with their products used them.

That has all changed with the IoT.

Now, we have to think about products  in totally new ways to capitalize on the IoT, and I think this merits another “Essential Truth” about the IoT:

Everything is cyclical.

Think about products — and industrial processes in general — in the old industrial system. Everything was linear: perhaps best exemplified by Henry Ford’s massive River Rouge Complex, the world’s largest integrated factory, and the epitome of integrated production.

Ford River Rouge Complex

“Ford was attempting to control and coordinate all of the necessary resources to produce complete automobiles.  Although Ford’s vision was never completely realized, no one else has come so close, especially on such a large scale.  His vision was certainly a success, one indication of this is the term Fordism, which refers to his style of mass-production, characterized by vertical integration, standardized products and assembly-line production”

At “The Rouge,” raw materials (literally: it had its own coke ovens and foundry!)  flowed in one side, and completed cars flowed out the other, bound for who knows where. Once the cars were in customers’ hands, the company’s contact was limited to whatever knowledge could be gleaned from owners’ visits to dealers’ service departments, irate calls from customers who had problems, and (in later days) safety recalls and/or multi-million dollar class-action lawsuits.

That linear thinking led to a terrible example of the “Collective Blindness” phenomenon that I’ve written about in the past: who knew how customers actually thought about their Model T’s? How did they actually drive them? Were there consistent patterns of performance issues that might not have resulted in major problems, but did irritate customers?

Sure, you could guess, or try to make inferences based on limited data, but no one really knew.

Fast forward to the newest auto manufacturer, Tesla, and its factory in Fremont, California (aside: this massive building — Tesla only uses a portion, used to be the NUMMI factory, where Chevy built Novas and Toyota built Corollas. Loved the perceptual irony: exactly the same American workers built mechanically identical cars [only the sheet metal varied] but the Toyotas commanded much higher prices, because of the perception of “Japanese quality.” LOL. But I digress….).

Tesla doesn’t lose track of its customers once the cars leave the plant.

Tesla assembly line

In fact, as I’ve written before, these “iPhones on wheels” are part of a massive cyclical process, where the cars’ on-board communications constantly send back data to the company about how the cars are actually doing on the road. And, when need be, as I mentioned in that prior post, the company was able to solve a potentially dangerous problem by simply sending out a software patch that was implemented while owners slept, without requiring customer trips to a repair shop!

I imagine that the company’s design engineers also pour over this data to discern patterns that might indicate elements of the physical design to tweak as well.

Of course, what would a blog post by me about IoT paradigm shifts be without a gratuitous reference to General Electric and its Durathon battery plant (aside to GE accounting: where should I send my W-9 and invoice so you can send me massive check for all the free PR I’ve given you? LOL)?

I can’t think of a better example of this switch to cyclical thinking:

  • including sensors into the batteries at the beginning of the production process rather than slapping them on at the end means that the company is actually able to monitor, and fine tune, the manufacturing process to optimize the critical chemical reaction. The same data allows the workers to remove defective batteries from the assembly line, so that every battery that ships works.
  • once in the field (and, remember: these batteries are deployed in incredibly remote areas where it might take days for a repair crew to reach and either service or repair them) the same sensors send back data on how the batteries are functioning. I don’t know about the specifics in the case of these batteries, but GE has actually created new revenue streams with other continuously-monitored devices by selling this data to customers who can use it (because the data is shared on a real-time basis, not just historically) to optimize performance.

Elsewhere, as I’ve mentioned before, General Electric’s William Ruh has said that being able to lift the veil of “Collective Blindness” through feedback from how customers actually use their products has even revolutionized their product design process:

“… 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 (Ruh) said. ‘It used to take three years.’”

Back in the ’90’s, I used to lecture and consult on what I called “Natural Wealth,” a paradigm shift in which we’d find all the inspiration we needed for an information-based economy in a table-top terrarium that embodies billion-year-old  principles of nature:

  • embrace chaos, don’t try to control it. (i.e., use open systems rather than proprietary ones)
  • create symbiosis: balance competition with cooperation (IFTTT.com, where you release your APIs to create synergistic mashups with others).
  • close the loop.

With the IoT, we can finally put that last principle into practice, substituting cyclical processes for linear ones.  At long last, the “systems dynamics” thinking pioneered by Jay Forrester and his disciple, Peter Senge, can become a reality. Here’s a closing tip to make that possible: in addition to SAP’s HANA or other analytics packages, look to systems dynamics software such as isee systems’  iThink to model your processes and transform linear into cyclical ones. Now get going: close the loop!

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!

General Electric Keeps on Practicing What They Preach!

I’m beginning to sound like a schill (no, not a typo, just a bad joke: short for [Curt] Schilling, the former Red Sox pitcher — sorry, I can’t get those guys out of my head today…) for GE, but it’s hard to argue with their impressive record of walking their talk about the “Industrial Internet,” their marketing term for the subset of the Internet of Things dealing with the industrial sector.

The latest evidence? A report today in the NYTimes‘ “Bits” blog that GE has just announced “14 more products that combine industrial equipment, Internet-linked sensors and software to monitor performance and analyze big streams of data. G.E. had previously announced 10 similar industrial products.”

Equally impressive, the Industrial Age behemoth turned nimble IoT leader said that by next year, almost all industrial products it makes will have built-in sensors and Big Data software to analyze the huge data streams those sensors will create.

Right now I’m writing an e-book on IoT strategy for C-level executives (not sure if I can disclose the customer — it’s a big one!) and GE VP of Global Software William Ruh, used the news to fire a shot across the bow at companies that are slow to realize a fundamental paradigm shift in manufacturing, product design and maintenance is well underway:

““Everyone wants prediction about performance, and better asset management… The ideas of speed, of information velocity, is what will differentiate the winners from the losers.”

You in the corner office: got your attention?

Equally important, given my insistence that the IoT is all about collaboration, GE simultaneously announced partnerships with Cisco, AT&T and Intel. It had already inked deals with Accenture and Amazon’s cloud subsidiary and has also invested in  Pivotal, an Industrial Internet app creator.

Smart companies will follow GE’s lead in radically reforming the product design process to capitalize on the rapid feedback on performance that the Industrial Internet products’ built-in sensors yield. According to Ruh, they’re switching to an iterative design process, with rapid changes based on data from the field:

“… 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 said. ‘It used to take three years.’” (my emphasis)

That change is definitely going to make it into my e-book! Brilliant example of how the IoT, by allowing companies to think in terms of systems dynamics, especially feedback loops, will have profound impacts on the design and manufacturing processes, integrating them as never before (oh, and don’t forget, the data from the built-in sensors will also allow companies to start marketing services — such as leasing jet turbines, with the lease cost based on the actual amount of thrust the engines create)!

Combined, that’s definitely a paradigm shift!

Oh, I almost forgot. Here’s a brief rundown of the products themselves and the industries served. They are clustered under the Predictivity name, and are powered by Predix, a new IoT platform:

  • The Drilling iBox System (oil and gas)
  • Reliability Max (oil and gas
  • Field 360 (oil and gas)
  • System 1 Evolution (oil and gas)
  • Non-destructive Testing Remote collaboration (oil and gas)
  • LifeMax Advantage (power and water)
  • Rail Connect 360 Monitoring and Diagnostics (transportation)
  • ShipperConnect (transportation)
  • Flight Efficiency Services (aviation)
  • Hot SimSuite (healthcare)
  • Cloud Imaging (healthcare)
  • Grid IQ Insight (energy management)
  • Proficy MaxxMine (energy management)

Given the diversity of industries the Predictivity products serve and GE’s global clout, I predict this level of commitment will radically accelerate the IoT’s adoption by big business, as well as accelerating the payback in terms of lower operating, energy and maintenance costs, and reduced environmental impacts.

Will GE’s competitors in these sectors get on board, or will they be left in the dust?