Manufacturers are in the throes of the latest industrial revolution—this time interconnecting their physical worlds with digital ones. This blurring of analog and digital has been well-addressed in the information economies where print and digital processes were blended to provide a rich digital fabric that could be accessed at any time by any device. The promise for them was that costs would come down while user experience and speed of innovation would increase.
The same promises hold true in manufacturing, but as in media, disruption of current processes will test technologies, conventions and probably the patience of many C-levels.
As Industry 3.0 saw the digitalization of individual processes, Industry 4.0 is the digitalization of the entire supply chain, opening the door to new business models.
What does the leap from 3.0 to 4.0 look like? Three companies on the forefront of this revolution—Eaton, Autoliv and Boeing—will be on a panel at MarkLogic World discussing how this connectivity of industrial data will impact their current and future states. My colleague, Matt Turner, CTO for MarkLogic’s manufacturing practice, will be moderating the panel. I sat with him to get more insights as to what his panel will discuss.
First, I wanted to know more about this “revolution” and what makes it so different than just digitalizing. “In the third revolution, which started in the 1970s, we saw the movement to automate,” he said. “Factories had to be rebuilt as they automated individual processes. With the fourth, all of those processes need to be connected together—creating what is called the Digital Thread. What’s more, every item in the process also needs to be tracked, creating its Digital Twin that moves through each process in the supply chain.”
Having seamless access to this digital information is a critical part of the Industry 4.0 revolution. To get the right procedure in front of a connected, high-tech worker, the digital thread needs to be connected and the digital twin needs to be accurate. To enable parts to be printed just in time, the exact specifications need to be delivered at the exact right moment. As the whole process speeds up, access to the information is now mission-critical.
“What if there is a lack of information?” I asked. “It creates delays,” he affirmed.
For Many, False Starts and Scant Success
Admittedly, the forefront can be a scary place. “There have been a lot of investments—and a lot of false starts,” Matt acknowledged. While Industry 4.0 is on the agenda for everyone in a wide range of industries, there are a lot of different technology approaches that promise to deliver parts of the overall data vision behind Industry 4.0. Great ERP systems, new material and asset systems, PLM innovations—but what is the system that threads all of those together?
“One of the reasons I am excited is that we have practical-use cases of customers who are connecting industrial data from across all of these systems today and are seeing the impact that unified data can bring,” he said.
At last year’s MarkLogic World, Autoliv’s Alan Campbell, Software Systems Engineer, discussed how supply-chain failures created existential problems for manufacturers. In addition to losing customers, possible compliance penalties (and even prison time!), a recall can drive a company into bankruptcy.
As an automotive parts manufacturer with facilities all over the globe, traceability of parts and materials is key. “A part is not just one thing,” Matt told me, “that same design is manufactured in multiple different ways in different places around the globe—with different materials. And materials are made all over the world. When you see a part in the box, you don’t necessarily know the history.”
This year, Autoliv will share how the company solved its traceability challenges and how manufacturing data is now quickly, easily and affordably maintained, searched and secured across business lines.
You can thank the Germans for the term Industrie 4.0, which came about from a project in the government’s high-tech strategy. A McKinsey interview in early 2013 with two German industry leaders, launched the new era that would aspire to connect all machines.
In the interview, Siegfried Dais, Deputy Chairman at Robert Bosch Healthcare GmbH, mused on how to “find an architecture that is stable enough to keep everything networked together.”
Linking Data from All Machines
And it’s not just the network—it’s getting that data from all of those machines to talk to each other that is the real challenge. Linking data is the main focus for the participants of the Industry 4.0 panel at MarkLogic World. They all have real-world, practical successes that represent the big picture and the big-picture change.
The question becomes, is the data that would traditionally travel from one part of the process to the next sufficient for today’s interconnected processes? Is it enough to just know part specifications and their use? Or do we now need to know where it was made? How it was made? And where and how all of the subcomponents for that part were made? Not to mention, what were the exact materials that went into it?
As firms like Eaton, Autoliv and Boeing focus on lean manufacturing (keeping just the right amount of inventory available at all times), the role of this type of rich data is becoming critical, and concepts like the Digital Thread and the Digital Twin have quickly gone from ideas to mission-critical reality.
Will Digital Twins Change Business Models?
Beyond streamlining the process, can the emergence of the Digital Twin and linking data across the Digital Thread also impact the business models like it did in the media world? Rest assured that will be one of the many questions that Matt will be asking. “I really can’t wait to find out how they think this will impact their companies. Will they still be selling the products they make today? Or, will it be an entirely different business model? It’s also going to be very interesting to see how these changes will impact the workforce … and their relationships with their customers.”
I asked Matt where he tends to see the visionaries in organizations, and he said at the start and the end of the processes. “People looking to the future—research, design and planning—and people at the end of the process—quality and risk management—all need to see this complete picture of the data and are the early movers that get immediate value from linking data. But in nearly every case, they are thinking of this as a foundation for innovation.”
This is spot on with how thought leaders see this progressing: “Industry 4.0 is this virtualization of everything,” as Jeff Immelt, now retired chairman of General Electric, said. “You go to bed a manufacturing company and wake up a software and analytics company.”
Listen to the recording of the panel discussion at MarkLogic World to hear more about how Eaton, Autoliv and Boeing are transforming their businesses.