Sunday, December 17, 2017

Agility - The Business Benefits of Smart Manufacturing

Yes we are all very excited about Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, IIoT, AR, etc. but do we really understand the business benefit? I am sure I am not the first or the last to ask this question, yet it is still very interesting and important. Companies that are implementing these technologies clearly have a specific business driver in mind and there are plenty of good examples. So I don't believe that its a case of technology for technology's sake but I am not sure that the industry realizes the ultimate potential that these technology can provide.

However if we "get into the helicopter" (a term I borrow from working with Danes for a number of years), which means to take a look at it from afar to gain a broader perspective - a picture of agility appears. What I am saying is that the application of these modern technologies can transform our manufacturing systems from rigid hierarchical control structure to a more agile distributed control structure and hence inherently make the production system more agile. In addition it provides a unique opportunity to embed data integrity, and a full history of every minute transaction being made. This means the potential for GMP compliance with very little effort!

Now I am going to go on a bit of a philosophical-academic tangent here, but guess what its a blog and where else can I do that? The premise is that production systems are characterized by chaos and that the best way to deal with managing chaos is by using system that have emergent behavior. One of the basic concepts with IIoT is decentralization and automation of the decision making by moving it to the end nodes of a system (end computing). This brings about emergent behavior which is the fundamental trait needed for agility. OK, this concept requires a bit more explanation, I understand but take my word for it, for now.

So what does this all mean? In short, the Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 set of technologies provide a potential to have true agility in a production system with inherent compliance! Now all that is missing are a practical architectures and implementations, which I believe are well on their way in some industries.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Smart Manufacturing / Industry 4.0 - 20 years in the making.

Hello everybody, I am back after a bit of an extended hiatus. I am finding my way back to blogging starting with some reflection on the past and view into the future.

In the late 1990s I was part of a international research effort that lay the groundwork for what we know of today as Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing. I specifically was interested in the architecture of what is now known as IIoT. In 2000 I wrote an article in the Journal of Manufacturing Systems about these new concepts and predicted that it would take 15 years to become mainstream. I guess I was young and optimistic, it has already been close to 18 years and although its still not mainstream it has started to move in that direction.

At that time the Internet was at its infancy and we could only dream of what is now possible with today’s technology. it was called many different thing such as multi-agent systems, Holonic Manufacturing Systems, Adaptive Manufacturing, and a few other such concepts. It was also called Intelligent Manufacturing, there was even an international consortium named that (and it still exists www.ims.org!). It is also one of the reasons behind the name of this blog. The joke was that what we did up to then was not intelligent :-) However the underlying assumption was that it will be a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking and a new way of operating that is brought about with technological advances.


Now, in the last many years I have been deeply immersed in the pharmaceutical industry and I have come to understand how immature this industry is from a manufacturing operations and technology perspective. Yes biologic manufacturing is novel, complex and groundbreaking however looking at the operations of a pharma plant with paper based systems, traditional automaton and maybe some MES it is nowhere close to the likes of Automotive, Aerospace and even CPG. Yes, this may be a broad and general statement but there is truth to it! Risk averseness driven by regulatory requirements is clearly one of the reasons and probably also why there is little innovation in the manufacturing operations space here, however that should not be an excuse.

So where am I going with this? I think that the pharma industry is poised to take a generational leap and may be able to skip the current or traditional manufacturing operations paradigms and go directly to Smart Manufacturing - bold! it is going to take more than putting a smart sensor on some equipment or sending some data to the cloud for analytics, but its a start. Most of all it is going to take leadership and a vision. There are a few people out there that I know will be able to do this - you know who you are. I am also ready for the challenge - It is a paradigm shift, we must think differently and operate differently.