Sunday, March 11, 2018

My head is in the Cloud

I have spent the last 2 months coming up to speed with SaaS, The Cloud, Big Data and advanced analytics. Wow, I am amazed at how far technology has come. In the last 7 years it seems I have moved further and further away from software technology with my increasing operational responsibilities. I did my best to follow the general trends and progress but really never in enough depth. I knew there was something “big” happening but kept thinking “I know what is going on…”, “I should have a general understanding…”. When I stopped to really understand how far some of these technologies, we group under the “Industry 4.0” umbrella, have come I found it quite astounding!

The power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms that are able find patterns we never knew existed in vast amounts and use this information to predict future behavior is amazing. Stories such as the one where Target (the retail store) was able to identify a girl as pregnant before her dad knew, stand as proof. I have also found the ease at which data can send data to the Cloud is just hard to understand. We have been fighting the connectivity and data contextualization problem for such a long time that its hard to believe it can be done any other way. If we take a breather, step out of the ditch and take a look around then we can quickly realize - we don’t need to do this anymore! Data can be collected by software agents running on everything from a server to a sensor and configured through a digital twin. There is no need to format, convert, transform or contextualize the collected data. In fact the AI and ML algorithms work best if we keep it unstructured and the smaller the data sets the better.

This is all very exciting and the more I think about how we can use these technologies the more more encouraged I am that we can achieve true manufacturing intelligence. The ability to have a real time picture of everything that is going on in our manufacturing plant is simple and achievable. On top of that we can discover relationships between processes and artifacts that we never imagined existed, and use these to improve, to better operate, and maybe stop the great firefight that is operating a plant. We can transform the daily operational meetings to something akin of a weather forecast - wouldn’t that be something to watch?