Industry 4.0 and Other Nerdy Stuff
If you’ve read any articles on the state of the woodshop industry over the last few years, you’ve been swamped by a wheelbarrow full of ‘insider’ terminology. From Industry 4.0 to Lean Manufacturing and The Internet of Things, marketing experts and trade publications have done their absolute best to confuse the living heck out of ordinary woodworkers and shop managers. What they’re actually up to is not very subtle: they’re trying to put reins on a runaway horse. Technology is moving incredibly fast, and the industry just needs to define and categorize change before it can manage it. So, it’s placing slogans on just about anything that moves. But in the process, it’s ignoring us - the unwashed masses who actually build the boxes - because it no longer speaks, well, good old American. So, here’s a brief translation into standard English of some of the most used and abused catch phrases that are currently being thrown at us…
The phrase Industry 4.0 is just a cool, computer nerdish way of saying that we’re about to have a fourth industrial revolution. The first one happened with James Watt and his steam engine, the second with Henry Ford and the assembly line, the third when Steve Jobs and Bill Gates introduced the paperless world (LOL), and this, the fourth one is all about ‘cyber physical systems’ or CPSs. The cyber means computer, the physical means machine, and the system means they work together. It’s not exactly earth-shatteringly complex, but it promises to be earth-shaking.
If you blow away the smoke, much of the hoopla here is actually about apps. Several large machine manufacturers and virtually every software company has come up with a new app that can run machines when nobody is around, or can manage maintenance and failure issues automatically. You might, for instance, be having lunch on vacation in Barbados and get a text from your CNC in Pittsburg telling you that the cutter is dull.
Stiles/HOMAG just introduced a program called tapio, which is a prime example of this. It’s an exquisite piece of computer engineering – far larger than the familiar apps that track, say, our customers or schedules – and it brings together every aspect of running a shop, from ordering supplies to installing cabinets.
What’s different with the new generation of apps is that now, every program is becoming interactive: it no longer just gathers data (info) from machines, computers and people, but it now meshes it all together to give you a more complete understanding of what’s going on. So, if you look at any one aspect of your business (say, how many drawer sides were made in the last hour), it will give you the opportunity to look at the big picture: how much raw material is on order, how much is physically in the shop, what machines and which people are working on drawer sides, what jobs require them and in what sizes, when will they be coated, when will they be delivered, was the CNC calibrated, where is the leaky seal in the vacuum, is the dust collector full, what tooling is at the sharpeners, how many carbide inserts are on hand, how much was the electric bill in the north building last month, which supervisor is going on vacation next, and why did the cleaning lady eat my doughnut?
In our daily lives, Industry 4.0 will bring driverless cars, remote medical monitoring (people with pacemakers, for example, are already using a cellphone to do their six-month check-ups), smart grids so that utility companies can avoid brown-outs (no, really, stop laughing), planes and trains without pilots or drivers, and of course, robots taking our jobs.
So, Industry 4.0 is a term that describes how computer programs using wireless data exchange (that means sharing info through the Internet and various ‘clouds’) are playing an ever-increasing role in running machines, materials, people, processes and every other aspect of our industry and the global economy. The AWFS describes Industry 4.0 as technology that will heavily influence the future of manufacturing, including artificial intelligence, augmented and virtual reality, robotics, 3D printing, cloud computing, the Internet of Things (IOT), and the Internet of Services (IOS)".
Now, lets take a look at that Internet of Things…thing…
The Internet of Things (IOT)
The bottom line here is that it means connecting anything that has an ON/OFF switch to the Internet, and to other devices. It’s what makes things ‘smart’ – smart cars, smart factories and so on. It’s a way to describe machines talking to each other. And by machines, I mean anything that isn’t alive but can move, such as lift bridges, flying drones and CNC tool changers. What they’re chatting about is either direct data (somebody sat down at a keyboard and told them something), sensor-data (an electronic eye counted how many parts went by, and how fast they were traveling), or calculated data (the computer used a program to come to some conclusion).
Sensors are everywhere: they tell an elevator that its overloaded, a blind guy that it’s safe to cross the road, or a CNC cutter to slow down because it’s getting dull. A prime example of the Internet of Things is the GPS device in your car. One machine (the vehicle) tells another (the satellite) where it is now, and in which direction it’s headed. The satellite sends that info to a server that accesses a databank of maps, and it then continually calculates the best route and the time of arrival based on your current speed. It uses direct data (somebody sat down and entered the latest roadwork delays), sensor data (the GPS device figures out where it is), and calculated data (map, speed and direction) to deliver results.
Machines are limited to physical functions, and sensors can gather all the data in the universe but it’s useless if we do nothing with it. The Internet and the various clouds allow machines and sensors to chat with each other, and to send info to a computer that can make sense of it.
The Internet of Services (IOS)
Over the past couple of decades, a large part of America’s workforce has switched from manufacturing to the service economy. Nope, we’re not all doing hair dye and manicures. We’re providing maintenance for plant, machinery, processes and information – every aspect of our personal and business lives. That maintenance includes marketing, selling and after-sales service. And here’s the key to the Internet of Services: it treats services as products.
For example, have you tried to buy a software program for your Mac or PC lately? You can no longer own most software: you essentially have to rent it now. And the package comes with automatic updates as new bugs are fixed or new doodads are added. Well, that’s the way we will ’purchase’ just about everything except consumables (basically, stuff from the grocery store) in the future. Or so some of the world’s best thinkers tell us.
The Internet of Services is just emerging. The current vision is that we will one day use communal cars and nobody will need a garage (well, unless you’re a woodworker). Kind of like what has happened with desktop printers, the hardware will become virtually worthless and the service (well, ink in this analogy) will be the profit-base. So, a shop might have a CNC router delivered and pay so much a month for it - and that includes all maintenance, parts, tooling, clamps, dust collection and perhaps even programming… and the shop will never own any of it.
The Value Chain
This catch-all phrase refers to everything a business does to add value. That means a log becomes boards, and then kiln dried lumber, and then parts and components or panels, and then cabinets and then an installed kitchen. Along the way, salespeople and truckers and floor supervisors all add value through their activities. A value chain starts with raw materials and ends with a consumer. And yes, the phrase can be applied to services as well as physical goods.
The Digital Twin
This one is very futuristic. It means that the physical environment is duplicated in a computer.
A program creates a digital version of the real world (for example, the layout of a woodshop), and when real-time changes happen, they are simultaneously made in the computer model. The changes are based on info gleaned from sensors, people and machines. The resulting model can be used to see what various changes might do to the subject environment. For example, one could change the material being processed, or the number and skills of workers, or the lighting or humidity, or add a second CNC, and so on. And see the effect before actually spending the money, or risking the process.
This one has been around since the late 1980s and is a special favorite of the business college profs. It’s built on the concept of avoiding any kind of waste – material, effort or time. There’s an entire philosophy that evolved from incredibly efficient Toyota methods of production and growth that allowed that company to grow from a tiny concern into one of the world’s largest automakers. Unfortunately, those college dons have not only imported the philosophy, but also the Japanese vocabulary, so every aspect of the process has a Japanese name. That, of course, makes it difficult for Americans to understand, as they first have to learn - and then use - a whole new lexicon.
Just In Time
This is essentially the Toyota model upon which lean manufacturing was built. JIT, in its raw essence, means that one keeps inventory levels at an absolute bare minimum so that money, space and time are not being wasted. The challenge is to keep things slim enough to do that, yet never run out.
This refers to machines being able to process date, rather than just store it. For example, if a computer has several bits of information and can use those to correctly determine what it should do next (rather than choosing from a fixed menu), then it is said to be intelligent.
Wouldn’t it be nice if teenagers could do that…