Space and Time Warp

As the Industrial Internet of Things takes shape, it will fundamentally alter how we perceive the importance of location and the pace of production.

The framework for electronically connecting just about any person and any thing to one another, thereby improving interactions on the shop floor, is largely in place. This framework can be called the Industrial Internet of Things (IoT), but exactly how we designate this trend doesn’t really matter. The fact is, this trend will make us think differently about space and time as we experience them in the context of a manufacturing enterprise.

Here are some of the factors related to time and space that I think will be transformed.

• Near and far will feel the same. Nothing will be “remote.” Shopfloor personnel will have all the information they need wherever and whenever it helps them make the best decisions. The physical location of manufacturing assets will make little difference in the quality of these decisions.

• There will be no top or bottom viewpoint of happenings inside a shop or factory. A close look at the fine details of a machining operation will be available to chief corporate officers, if they choose to drill down into the data. Likewise, shopfloor personnel can share in the view of corporate performance and understand how their decisions influence matters of concern in the boardroom. Dashboards that report shop and business effectiveness put everyone on the same page—or on the same display screen, to be more precise.

• Managing closeness will be an issue, especially when dealing with people. Human interactions with connected “things” will become part of the data stream and workflow. No one can hide. On the shop floor, personal space and privacy will have to be redefined to keep the atmosphere from becoming irksome or invasive. In contrast, people connected with others working collaboratively on cloud-based platforms will have to assert their identity and personality in these interactions.

• Whom to let into the network and whom to leave out will be a tough call. For example, having equipment suppliers tap into the data from their products installed in a user’s shop will likely result in better service and improved performance down the road. However, having customers tap into production data about components they purchase is a stickier proposition. What decisions they should be allowed to influence will be a close debate. The meaning of trust must be firmly established.

• Data will flow so vigorously across the Industrial IoT that it will wash away many of the beginning and ending points we have traditionally used to determine product life cycles. Instead, a cycle of redesigning, re-engineering, updating and revising will keep many products “like new” for as long as the end user wishes. In this swirl of relentless innovation and evolution, time to market may be too elusive to measure, but it will be immeasurably important.

These transformations, and many more, will result in a stunning orderliness and logicality in manufacturing. Manufacturing will indeed be data-driven. This new order may be hard to imagine at the moment, but only because the usual chaos of the here and now is what we see.

For more on the Industrial IoT and the new industrial revolution it creates, read my article, “Seven Things to Know about the Internet of Things and Industry 4.0.”