Some products are just too significant to die. Or so it would seem. A few that come to mind are Wonder Bread, Twinkies, the Polaroid Camera and now Ektachrome film. A question we might ask is if the product was so great in the first place why did it disappear from the marketplace. And what makes companies believe that if they reinstate a previously failed product it will succeed the second time? Reasons may vary from situation to situation. And it may be a matter of timing. Although it isn’t a single brand, the sale of vinyl records is one example of the rebound of what appeared to be an obsolete product. Sales of vinyl in 2016 reached a 25-year high. More than three million LPs were sold in 2016, the highest number since 1991. Spending on vinyl outstripped that spent on digital downloads.
The byword of the presidential campaign and the new administration has been creating manufacturing jobs in the United States. But even before the change in leadership in Washington there was a push to create manufacturing jobs, save the automobile industry, provide funding to create apprenticeships and new qualified tradesmen.
There has always been an element of service as a product but it is accelerating in recent years and may become the dominant method of delivery for sophisticated goods over the next several years. The question being asked by manufactures is, do consumers want a “thing” or do they want the service that the product delivers? Do consumers want to buy a device and use and maintain it or would they prefer to pay for the actual use they get from it? A traditional example of this was the car lease. Consumers get a car to use and effectively pay for the miles they drive. The repair and maintained costs are covered in the lease fee paid. The same concept can now be applied to almost anything a consumer uses. As the Internet of Things has become more robust it has made it possible to monitor more closely the operation and failure of appliances, and to do predictive and preventive maintenance.
Say you are a manufacturer with an aging production infrastructure, faced with the opportunity to sell more of your goods (if only you could up your output from your existing equipment). As you begin your investigation into your options to increase your volumes, and consider the possibility of a capital investment, you may then be faced with the need to deal with parts of your existing system which may have to be brought up to current code. The modifications you may desire for your current machinery, which will enable the integration of new equipment to give you the added production you are seeking, are also now mandating certain regulated updates (this can happen to electrical components and wiring, and can also drive necessary improvements to guarding for operator safety).
In a quote attributed to Warren Bennis over a decade ago, it was stated that “The factory of the future will have only two employees, a man and a dog. The man will be there to feed the dog. The dog will be there to keep the man from touching any of the equipment.” Perhaps the future he visualized is very near.
Manufacturers utilizing control systemswith obsolete components are faced with the daunting task of needing to replace their system, even though it may meet their production needs and is very well understood by the operations team. What can be done to help improve the success of a control system migration?
Add More Value
The ROI of a migration project is sometimes difficult to justify. It is often viewed as an "insurance policy" against losing the ability to replace a "likely to fail" subcomponent. In many cases this type of justification gets postponed for many years but most likely there are features of a new system that can improve a migration's value.
For the past decade and more there has been steady progress toward greater and greater use of advanced automation in manufacturing. While Manufacturing 4.0 and the Internet of Things are new in their implementation, they were preceded by continuing and steady improvements in process control systems, SCADA and historians which have been in place for decades. Capturing process and product data from the plant floor and using analysis techniques such as SPC has been the manufacturing model for decades. One of the challenges has been dealing with the massive amount of data available to use, storing, analyzing, and using the results to meaningfully improve quality and throughput.
As a new year begins to unfurl before us, and we consider trends that may become popular and successful, one technology that is poised to have a significant impact on how goods are manufactured is 3D printing. This breakthrough method, which relies on building plastic, ceramic or metal components by fusing together droplets of liquefied feedstock or particles of finely ground powder, offers several thought provoking advantages. So, let’s talk about 3D printing…
I saw an interesting article this week. It was about a vote taken in the European Union by a committee which would grant certain human rights to robots. While this does not apply directly to the subject of digital twins in manufacturing it is very much related to the topic. In both cases it becomes clear that more and more sophistication is being applied in artificial intelligence and computer programming. We have come a very long way since 1996 when IBM’s Deep Blue was first able to win against a human chess master.
When we are dealing with technical issues we often like to revert to TLMs, FLMs and RCBs. Somehow it makes us feel more connected and in the know than others. TLMs are “three letter mnemonics,” FLMs are “four letter mnemonics,” and RCBs are “really cool buzzwords.”
Reshoring, newshoring and nearshoring are RCBs that have come into our lexicon in recent years. I did a bit of a survey and while most people know what offshoring is and many are aware of reshoring, it seems that far less are aware of the trends beginning in nearshoring and newshoring.