Sunday, March 11, 2018

My head is in the Cloud

I have spent the last 2 months coming up to speed with SaaS, The Cloud, Big Data and advanced analytics. Wow, I am amazed at how far technology has come. In the last 7 years it seems I have moved further and further away from software technology with my increasing operational responsibilities. I did my best to follow the general trends and progress but really never in enough depth. I knew there was something “big” happening but kept thinking “I know what is going on…”, “I should have a general understanding…”. When I stopped to really understand how far some of these technologies, we group under the “Industry 4.0” umbrella, have come I found it quite astounding!

The power of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) algorithms that are able find patterns we never knew existed in vast amounts and use this information to predict future behavior is amazing. Stories such as the one where Target (the retail store) was able to identify a girl as pregnant before her dad knew, stand as proof. I have also found the ease at which data can send data to the Cloud is just hard to understand. We have been fighting the connectivity and data contextualization problem for such a long time that its hard to believe it can be done any other way. If we take a breather, step out of the ditch and take a look around then we can quickly realize - we don’t need to do this anymore! Data can be collected by software agents running on everything from a server to a sensor and configured through a digital twin. There is no need to format, convert, transform or contextualize the collected data. In fact the AI and ML algorithms work best if we keep it unstructured and the smaller the data sets the better.

This is all very exciting and the more I think about how we can use these technologies the more more encouraged I am that we can achieve true manufacturing intelligence. The ability to have a real time picture of everything that is going on in our manufacturing plant is simple and achievable. On top of that we can discover relationships between processes and artifacts that we never imagined existed, and use these to improve, to better operate, and maybe stop the great firefight that is operating a plant. We can transform the daily operational meetings to something akin of a weather forecast - wouldn’t that be something to watch?

Sunday, December 17, 2017

Agility - The Business Benefits of Smart Manufacturing

Yes we are all very excited about Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0, IIoT, AR, etc. but do we really understand the business benefit? I am sure I am not the first or the last to ask this question, yet it is still very interesting and important. Companies that are implementing these technologies clearly have a specific business driver in mind and there are plenty of good examples. So I don't believe that its a case of technology for technology's sake but I am not sure that the industry realizes the ultimate potential that these technology can provide.

However if we "get into the helicopter" (a term I borrow from working with Danes for a number of years), which means to take a look at it from afar to gain a broader perspective - a picture of agility appears. What I am saying is that the application of these modern technologies can transform our manufacturing systems from rigid hierarchical control structure to a more agile distributed control structure and hence inherently make the production system more agile. In addition it provides a unique opportunity to embed data integrity, and a full history of every minute transaction being made. This means the potential for GMP compliance with very little effort!

Now I am going to go on a bit of a philosophical-academic tangent here, but guess what its a blog and where else can I do that? The premise is that production systems are characterized by chaos and that the best way to deal with managing chaos is by using system that have emergent behavior. One of the basic concepts with IIoT is decentralization and automation of the decision making by moving it to the end nodes of a system (end computing). This brings about emergent behavior which is the fundamental trait needed for agility. OK, this concept requires a bit more explanation, I understand but take my word for it, for now.

So what does this all mean? In short, the Smart Manufacturing/Industry 4.0 set of technologies provide a potential to have true agility in a production system with inherent compliance! Now all that is missing are a practical architectures and implementations, which I believe are well on their way in some industries.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Smart Manufacturing / Industry 4.0 - 20 years in the making.

Hello everybody, I am back after a bit of an extended hiatus. I am finding my way back to blogging starting with some reflection on the past and view into the future.

In the late 1990s I was part of a international research effort that lay the groundwork for what we know of today as Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing. I specifically was interested in the architecture of what is now known as IIoT. In 2000 I wrote an article in the Journal of Manufacturing Systems about these new concepts and predicted that it would take 15 years to become mainstream. I guess I was young and optimistic, it has already been close to 18 years and although its still not mainstream it has started to move in that direction.

At that time the Internet was at its infancy and we could only dream of what is now possible with today’s technology. it was called many different thing such as multi-agent systems, Holonic Manufacturing Systems, Adaptive Manufacturing, and a few other such concepts. It was also called Intelligent Manufacturing, there was even an international consortium named that (and it still exists!). It is also one of the reasons behind the name of this blog. The joke was that what we did up to then was not intelligent :-) However the underlying assumption was that it will be a paradigm shift, a new way of thinking and a new way of operating that is brought about with technological advances.

Now, in the last many years I have been deeply immersed in the pharmaceutical industry and I have come to understand how immature this industry is from a manufacturing operations and technology perspective. Yes biologic manufacturing is novel, complex and groundbreaking however looking at the operations of a pharma plant with paper based systems, traditional automaton and maybe some MES it is nowhere close to the likes of Automotive, Aerospace and even CPG. Yes, this may be a broad and general statement but there is truth to it! Risk averseness driven by regulatory requirements is clearly one of the reasons and probably also why there is little innovation in the manufacturing operations space here, however that should not be an excuse.

So where am I going with this? I think that the pharma industry is poised to take a generational leap and may be able to skip the current or traditional manufacturing operations paradigms and go directly to Smart Manufacturing - bold! it is going to take more than putting a smart sensor on some equipment or sending some data to the cloud for analytics, but its a start. Most of all it is going to take leadership and a vision. There are a few people out there that I know will be able to do this - you know who you are. I am also ready for the challenge - It is a paradigm shift, we must think differently and operate differently.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Fresh Seeds in a Plowed Field – Leadership Again….

Last night I had time to reflect on my experiences and learning from a 2 days leadership training delivered by Mark Hannum. I really enjoyed it especially all the stories from real world examples such as Allan Mulally's first few days at Ford. It also re-emphasized some of the things that I have known about leadership that I wanted to bring up again as well as my favorite leadership guru – Dr Deming. What makes Deming so intriguing is the fact that his statements and teaching is timeless as I describe in another post.

I wanted to point at this specific video about Deming - the real reason I am writing this long post. But there are also some other interesting observation that were discussed during the 2 days with some interesting information sources behind them such as why Management by Objective can be destructive, why do we do it and why there are no heroes. And of course one of my favorite leadership post "Death to the Performance Review" which is tightly coupled with lessons on how not to be a Bosshole.

There is always something new to learn and I guess that much of it was realization or maybe more confirmation that it really is all simple and logical once you wrap you head around. Or maybe its more unwrapping your head from the spreadsheet-centered engineering perspective on life. Mark described the leadership cycles that are core to leadership development, a concept that really hit home. It made me realize that my first leadership cycle was when I was 16 during an outdoor leadership course leading a group of my puberty infested peers on a survival backpacking trip around Mt Kenya (yes that’s the one in Africa).

Mark mentioned that this reflection is very important and with a bit of help from United (no entertainment on the plane) and low battery life I got a chance to do that. As the lights of the Central Valley appeared, I thought it would be a good idea to put some of what I felt in words, hence this blog post. I felt that during the 2 days there was some novel new understanding in our management group and with that maybe some openness or acceptance of these new concepts. It’s as if Mark has plowed the fields, opened up the ground and made it breathe. It is now ready for new seeds. Sorry, but I am a farmer at heart – I can’t help myself with these analogies.