The term “Internet of Things” was not unfamiliar to me, but I did not really comprehend the potential until a seminar at Advantech almost 3 years ago. Apparently Advantech senior management in Singapore had a great appreciation for the potential that IoT presents for suppliers of industrial control technology.
Sometimes the future of manufacturing is discussed in the context of Manufacturing 4.0, a recent creation of technologists in Germany to propose a “cyber physical” system in which manufacturing systems share information over the internet and coordinate resources.
These somewhat Utopian visions of the future are actually interdependent. The manufacturing systems of the future are based on the premise of internet services that are fully embedded in every sensor and controller providing a common communications layer with no hardware dependency. Is there any control system device that doesn’t already have an Ethernet connector on it?
Maybe. Though I can only come up with a few. Even the lowly pushbutton has been targeted for replacement by low cost touch screen display technology that can provide a lot more information that a simple “on” switch. Can you get something like that for the cost of a nice, heavy duty pushbutton? Almost. It’s kind of scary.
The Internet of Things and Manufacturing 4.0 seem to be a lot of marketing razzle dazzle around technology that’s already well on its way to widespread adoption. Do lots of people have cellphones? Hey, let’s make apps that allow our control systems to call up our cellphones and leave text messages. Cool!
Will large scale manufacturing allow for production of quantity 1 of a product? Some already do. And whether that capability is available to you or me is more a function of whether there is a company out there that can make a profit on it.
If you will allow the comparison, Starbuck’s already does. They are a manufacturing and service organization that makes a consumer production millions of times a day in a highly distributed factory system all over the US and the world. They deliver very perishable foods and beverages, they make a profit, and they are a multi-billion dollar organization. There’s a locator app on Google Maps.
The irony for me is that most of the trends going on are driven from consumer electronics. The largest market of early adapters of Ethernet were office information systems. Control system interfaces using cellphones and tables? Of course. Industrialized societies have the mobility devices.
No one should be surprised.