Industrial Internet of Things, Disruptive Manufacturing at UBM West Exibition & Conference

I’ve enjoyed engineering journals like EDN, EE Times and for years.  So when I found out that the UBM “mothership” was hosting a conference in Anaheim, I was eager to attend.

I haven’t always had the freedom to attend any conference or exposition that I wanted.  Employers are understandably reluctant to send engineers to expensive conferences.  But these events “feed” the engineer with new ideas.  They let us know what is possible.  And of course they allow us to network and connect.

I would recommend to any engineer that he or she attend at least one or two conventions every year.  If your employer will not send you, then plan on taking some vacation time and pay your own way.  The benefits are too great.

I spent two days here and according to my pedometer I walked 14 miles through the aisles.  Besides aching feet, here’s one of the biggest things that I’ve taken from this event.

UBMWestlogoThe Internet of Things has become the Industrial Internet of Things.  Manufacturers have embraced IoT to connect and control their production lines.  But it seems to me that the manufacturing model still relies on the Ford assembly-line model and the power that comes with IIoT is underused.

I think that part of this is due to manufacturing inertia.  And this is understandable, if the company is still making a profit then why change?  This inertia is coming to an end due to narrowing profit margins that are required for manufacturers to remain competitive.  We seem to be seeing changes due to this already.

I also think that the Maker community is becoming more powerful and is approaching the point where the community itself will become a “disruptive technology” for traditional manufacturers.  Makers have moved beyond “arts and crafts” and are connecting with smaller designers and specialized manufacturers to create small runs of innovative technology products.  This distributed manufacturing model is coordinated “in the cloud” and is capable of creating printed circuit boards at a cost of tens of dollars per square inch for limited runs.

As distributed manufacturers start to coordinate with each other I foresee a time when they will create virtual vertical integration, and the manufacturers themselves will be mapped into resilient supply chains.  Information technology will be used to control individual machines, reconfigure production lines, and select supply chains based upon availability and costs.  Manufacturing will just be another part of that supply chain, easily and quickly replaced by another manufacturer in the case of failure.

This has been called “Industry 4.0”, which was also discussed at UBM Anaheim.  And one of the six design principles of Industry 4.0 is “Interoperability”.  And this seems to be another sticking point in manufacturing.  As of right now, there is no standard for the Internet of Things.  Or rather –  there are several standards that don’t play well together.  And since these smart factories depend on IoT, it is imperative that these things can talk to the rest of the virtual factory.

Customer design goes in, product comes out.  We’ve got a long way to go – but I think that time is measured in years, not decades.  Our consumer products will someday follow the “on demand printing” model in that the product will reside in a catalog until ordered and produced.