January 30, 2020

Abraham Lincoln once said, ‘The best way to predict your future is to create it,’” At first this might seem obvious but I think it shows remarkable insight.  Engineers and scientists the world over have been doing that for centuries.   

 Charles H. Duell was the Commissioner of US patent office in 1899.  Mr. Deull’s most famous attributed utterance is “everything that can be invented has been invented.”  The only thing this proves; P.B. Barnum was correct—there is a fool born every minute.  Mr. Duell just may fit that mold. 

The November/December 2019 edition of “Industry Week” provided an article entitled “TOP 10 TECHNOLOGIES TO WATCH IN 2020”.  I personally would say in the decade of the twenties.  Let’s take a look at what their predictions are.  The article was written specifically to address manufacturing in the decade of the “20s but I feel the items will apply to professions other than manufacturing.  You’re going to like this one.

INDUSTRIAL INTERNET OF THINGS (IIOT): I’ve been writing about this one. The Internet of Things is a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines, objects, animals or people that are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.  In a data-fueled environment, IIOT provides the means to gather data in near real-time fashion from seamlessly all-connected devices.  The IoT and the IIoT is happening right now.  It truly is an idea whose time has come.

EDGE COMPUTING:  As production equipment continues to advance, equipment cannot always wait for data to move across the network before taking action.  Edge computing puts vital processing power where it is needed, only transmitting vital information back through the network. In the beginning, there was One Big Computer. Then, in the Unix era, we learned how to connect to that computer using dumb (not a pejorative) terminals. Next, we had personal computers, which was the first-time regular people really owned the hardware that did the work.

Right now, in 2020, we’re firmly in the cloud computing era. Many of us still own personal computers, but we mostly use them to access centralized services like Dropbox, Gmail, Office 365, and Slack. Additionally, devices like Amazon Echo, Google Chromecast, and the Apple TV are powered by content and intelligence that’s in the cloud — as opposed to the DVD box set of Little House on the Prairie or CD-ROM copy of Encarta you might’ve enjoyed in the personal computing era.

As centralized as this all sounds, the truly amazing thing about cloud computing is that a seriously large percentage of all companies in the world now rely on the infrastructure, hosting, machine learning, and compute power of a very select few cloud providers: Amazon, Microsoft, Google, and IBM.

The advent of edge computing as a buzzword you should perhaps pay attention to is the realization by these companies that there isn’t much growth left in the cloud space. Almost everything that can be centralized has been centralized. Most of the new opportunities for the “cloud” lie at the “edge.”

So, what is edge?

The word edge in this context means literal geographic distribution. Edge computing is computing that’s done at or near the source of the data, instead of relying on the cloud at one of a dozen data centers to do all the work. It doesn’t mean the cloud will disappear. It means the cloud is coming to you.

5G NETWORK:  As manufacturers continue to embrace mobile technology, 5G provides the stability and speed needed to wirelessly process growing data sets common in today’s production environments.  5G is crucial as manufacturers close the last mile to connect the entire array of devices to the IIOT. 5 G components and networks allow wearable technology, hand-held devices, and fast data acquisition on the factory floor or the retail establishment.

3-D PRINTING:  The rise of the experience economy is ushering in the need for mass production. The ongoing maturity of 3D printing and additive manufacturing is answering the call with the ability to leverage an ever-growing list of new materials. 

WEARABLES: From monitoring employee health to providing augmented training and application assistance, a growing array of wearable form factors represents an intriguing opportunity for manufacturing to put a host of other technologies in action including AI, machine learning, virtual reality and augmented reality.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLEGENCE (AI) AND MACHINE LEARNING (ML):  AI, and more specifically ML, empower manufacturers to benefit from data-based insights specific to their individual operations.  Advancing the evolution from prevention to predictive maintenance is just the beginning.  AI fuels opportunities within generative design, enhanced robotic collaboration and improved market understanding.

ROBOTICS/AUTOMATION:   It’s not going to stop.  The increasingly collaborative nature or today’s robots is refining how manufacturers maximize automated environments—often leveraging cobots to handle difficult yet repetitive tasks. OK, what is a cobot?  Cobots, or collaborative robots, are robots intended to interact with humans in a shared space or to work safely in close proximity. Cobots stand in contrast to traditional industrial robots which are designed to work autonomously with safety assured by isolation from human contact. 

BLOCKCHAIN:  The manufacturing-centric uses cases for blockchain, an inherently secure technology, include auditable supply chain optimization, improved product trust, better maintenance tracking, IIOT device verification and reduction of systematic failures.  A blockchain, originally block chain, is a growing list of records, called blocks, that are linked using cryptography. Each block contains a cryptographic hash of the previous block, a timestamp, and transaction data. By design, a blockchain is resistant to modification of the data.

QUANTUM COMPUTING:  According to the recent IBM report, “Exploring Quantum Computing Use Cases for Manufacturing”, quantum computing’s entry into the manufacturing realm will allow companies to solve problems impossible to address with conventional computers. Potential benefits include the ability to discover, design and develop materials with more strength-to-weight ratios, batteries that offer significantly higher energy densities as well as more efficient synthetic and catalytic processes that could help with energy generation and carbon capture.

DRONES:  From the ability to make just-in-time component deliveries to potentially fueling AI engines with operational observations, drones represent a significant opportunity to optimize production environments.   It is imperative that legislation be written to give our FAA guidelines relative to drone usage.  Right now, that is not really underway. 

CONCLUSIONS:  Maybe Mr. Duell was incorrect in his pronouncement.  We are definitely not done

What do you think?

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