At this point, if you’ve heard of digital twins, it’s likely that you’ve also heard them discussed in relation to the NASA’s Apollo 13 mission. For those of you who haven’t, the modern conception of a digital twin owes a lot to the structures that NASA put in place in case of exactly the sort of malfunctions that almost doomed the astronauts aboard Apollo 13. To wit, once John Swigert communicated to NASA that the spacecraft was experiencing an issue (in this case, an oxygen tank explosion had caused a cascade of system malfunctions), engineers and planners on earth were able to replicate the problems using a full-scale, physical model of the entire craft. Using this live, physical simulation of the systems operating in space, they were able to identify the issue and communicate a plan for repairs to the crew.
Plenty has been written on the perils and best practices that come with selecting the right technology for your business. Usually, businesses will be told to look at online reviews, to do their due-diligence on the provider to make sure that they deserve the trust that’s being placed in them, and to be conscious of what the typical pricing structures are within the relevant industry. This is all excellent advice, but it might not directly speak to the most important questions being considered by businesses. Why? Because while evaluating an IT solution is, in some ways, just like evaluating any other product, it’s also markedly different in others. Specifically, it requires businesses to think not just practically but conceptually, considering the long-term, transformative implications of a given piece of software.
Let’s say you’re trying to optimize your morning commute. Each day, you leave your house in the morning and walk to the train station, stopping by one of a few nearby coffee shops on the way to get your requisite dose of caffeine. This system works okay as it is, but because the coffee shops are sometimes crowded and the trains are sometimes late there is an overly-high level of variability in the length of time it takes to get from your front door to your office—meaning that you sometimes arrive earlier or later than you intended. To combat this variability, you download an app that gives you real-time notifications about train arrival times (so that you can adjust accordingly if a particular train is running late) and another app that approximates how crowded any given coffee shop is based on online check-ins. In this way, you can avoid the most crowded coffee shops and try to work around late trains, leading to a more stable commute time.
In 1963 the National Council of Physical Distribution Management was created to help give visibility to the emerging field of supply chain management. In the following decades, records keeping and other traditionally manual processes would become the province of newly-emerging computer technology, leading to significant changes in the industry. In the ‘80s, the council changed its name to the Council of Logistics Management to reflect the industry’s increasingly nuanced view of the complex process of sourcing raw materials for production and distributing finished products to customers. Supply chain management as a field went through plenty of change during that span, including the continued rise of computers as a tool, just as it's going through big changes now with the advent of Industry 4.0. Below, you’ll find our predictions for what might change about supply chain management in the coming year.
Let’s say you have to schedule a medium-sized meeting with some of your coworkers. If you’re a traditionalist who likes to do this kind of scheduling by hand, you’ll first need to brainstorm a list of which people (i.e. which creative and organizational resources) will need to be in attendance. Then, you’ll have to pick a time that works for you, and check with each person on the list to see if that time also works with their schedules. In the extremely likely event that the time does not work for everyone, you’ll need a master list of everyone’s availabilities so that you can find a time slot that works for everyone. Or, if not everyone, then at least the largest possible number of vital attendees.
As the era of Industry 4.0 continues to ramp up, new corners throughout the world of industry will continue to see rapid growth and changes—for which they may or may not be prepared! Certainly, the general trend of increasing cyber-physical systems, big data and analytics integration, autonomous machine decision-making, and increased product customization will be apparent to some degree in every Industry 4.0-enabled factory, but the particulars of the Fourth Industry Revolution’s effect will vary widely from industry to industry based on products, product lifecycles, and customer expectations. This means that the picture of Industry 4.0 readiness will look very different in different fields. In furniture manufacturing, for instance, production planners and IT staff may encounter a very different set of challenges than, say, automotive manufacturers.
Let us consider the smart fridge. This modern convenience, part of the much-vaunted Internet of Things and a key component of many smart homes, give you the ability to track its contents and see them displayed via smart phone or tablet when you’re away from home. To some, this might seem like somewhat of a frivolous piece of technology, but imagine the following scenario: you’re at the grocery store, doing your weekly stocking up; you have a whole shopping list full of items that you expect to be depleted within the next few days, from eggs and butter to fresh produce. What you’re not planning on buying is milk, because when you left the house you still had most of a gallon left. Then, all of a sudden, you receive an alert from your phone letting you know that you’re out of milk. Unbeknownst to you, your partner has accidentally taken the existing gallon out of the fridge and spilled it. Luckily, she instructed the fridge to send you a real-time update and you were able to add it to your shopping list before you left, saving yourself an extra trip to the store or a week without any milk.
In a recent poll, PwC found that while 60% of respondents were “dabbling” with Industry 4.0 technology, only 3% had truly achieved a working Industry 4.0 paradigm. To some of you, this might come as a big surprise. After all, Industry 4.0 has been the subject of countless news stories, opinion pieces, blog posts, and whitepapers in the last several years—almost all of them pointing out its unprecedented potential for changing the face of manufacturing. Some readers, on the other hand, probably aren’t surprised by this statistic in the slightest. Why? Because they know how difficult it can be to find and implement the kinds of technology solutions that make Industry 4.0 possible. Businesses often have to wade through jargon to understand what’s on offer, and a solution, once selected, might require large-scale operational changes that can be difficult to implement. To help mitigate some of these challenges, here are a few questions to ask yourself as you evaluate Industry 4.0 technology solutions for your manufacturing outfit.
In a recent Seattle Times Article, readers got an intimate account of how Cloudburst Brewing creates its seasonal fresh hop beers. While most hops used in beer production are dried before they’re shipped from the farm, fresh hop beers utilize fresh-picked, “wet” hops that haven’t been dried yet. As such, this popular style can only be brewed during and immediately after the annual hop harvest, and only under ideal conditions. A traffic jam, a flat tire, or a power outage at the brewing facility could jeopardize brewers’ efforts, owing to the extremely short shelf-life that these “wet” hops have.
Let’s talk about Amazon Go for a moment. The incredibly successful online retailer has recently made headlines with its latest foray into brick and mortar shopping, a series of convenience stores that, notably, don’t feature any human cashiers. Instead, shoppers (all of whom need an Amazon Prime account) use an app on their phones to scan each item they put into their (physical) shopping cart. This is noteworthy for a host of reasons, but let’s look at it from an inventory management perspective. The store is stocked with a considerable number of items, which all need to be replenished as they are sold, and Amazon is able to track the flow of goods out of their stores with no human intervention. Not only that, but they’re able to link each piece of inventory that leaves the store to a particular user account, and then make recommendations to that user based on analytics processes designed to predict future buying behavior.