In my last blog, I explored the growth of smart devices, big data analytics, and the cloud, and what these technologies mean to operational systems such as MES/MOMs. Briefly, I suggested that MOMs will continue to drive operations for several years, but will have to evolve and adapt as edge technology and the IIoT continue to advance.
Now I want to look at the longer term. How will this interaction between operational systems (OT) and information systems (IT) play out in manufacturing enterprises over the next 10 or 15 years? Will MOMs, or any operational systems, even survive the IIoT?
In a world where every asset is smart and connected, there may be no operational “driver” as we think of it today.
How will Smart Connected Assets and Smart Connected Operations interact? Will they be independent or closely coupled?
We are only at the onset of smart connected devices, but already we can begin to see the impact and the coming convergence of the OT and IT spheres of influence.
For example, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Data Historian vendors are trying to expand their footprint through mobility and intelligent devices, moving into operational realms normally controlled by MES or MOMs. And why not? If a SCADA vendor can interact with various devices and has smart analytical capabilities to answer questions about how a device is used, then it can control areas of operations related to it.
Smart connected assets will blur the lines between assets and operations in many ways, because this evolution will bring real benefits to manufacturers. Consider maintenance. Intelligent assets will reduce downtime by better detecting anomalies or impending failures by capturing and analyzing on-site data to make real-time recommendations, directing and scheduling maintenance teams, and perhaps even changing production flow to work around repairs.
This convergence of smart connected assets and operations will impact all areas within the factory. Raw materials, equipment, personnel, operations, suppliers—they will all be intelligent, connected, and capable of interacting in any way needed to improve efficiency and respond to shifting conditions and demands. These capabilities will involve new challenges, such as firewalls and security issues on the shop floor between manufacturers and products, but they will also enable increasing industrial partnerships and collaborations.
What new mutualized business services models will be possible between companies that use Smart Connected Assets to perform their Smart Connected Operations?
The factory floor isn’t the only thing that will change. Smart connected assets and operations will change how companies do business with each other. We can imagine all vendors making and monetizing their services to do what we now call MES.
I gave the example of SCADA above, but it could apply to any asset or operation. When devices are sharing information in a fully digitalized environment, every device and every vendor will have a holistic view of its use and the operations around it. This will create new opportunities for every vendor.
Take an aircraft engine turbine, for example. The engine manufacturer could remotely direct repairs by working through on-site operators (perhaps using wearables that display dashboard recommendations). This repair service could be offered for free in exchange for data about the engine’s usage.
This type of collaboration can easily be transferred to any factory or relationship. Manufacturers that use smart connected devices and operations will have important leverage with their vendors—the ability to share valuable usage and operational data to help improve and support their products. In turn, the vendors will have leverage by offering expanded services made possible by smart connected devices. The result should be a true win-win business model based on trading services for data.
Will MOM systems survive? Or is the future some cloud-based platform that consolidates interconnections between diverse smart systems?
It should be clear by now that once every device is smart, operationally aware, and connected, factory processes can be driven from anywhere. In this future world, will there be a place for MES/MOMs?
MOMs will surely be a key transitional technology at the very least. But over time, these systems may evolve into something else, such as a collection of applications in the cloud. Whether or not there is a MOM, information will have to be streamed to the cloud, in conjunction with an advanced analytic model that can cull unneeded historized information.
We might expect to have dedicated data lakes that will consolidate a holistic view of various data sources across the company. These data lakes could be instantiated or referenced in several situations according to programs/projects/product exchange and sharing. Conceivably, any asset could access and use this data at the edge to make decisions and direct operations.
All of this will no doubt disrupt the ISA pyramid a great deal and flatten the L3 application landscape to a more horizontal set of apps and services, possibly hosted by major IoT platform vendors.
We can look to a steady convergence of capabilities as everything becomes smart and connected. Vendors will realign to meet this new reality, with every product potentially becoming the “driver” of manufacturing operations. CAD/CAM, SCADA, PLM, ERP, Big Data, Edge Analytics, MOM—any or all of these categories could end up running a factory.
However, there’s another possibility—that there will be no driver at all in the conventional sense. Just as we see driverless cars merging onto our highways, we may someday see driverless manufacturing plants that act almost as living organisms, with each smart device or “cell” responding immediately to stimulus (demand or problems), communicating with other cells, coordinating responses, and directing activities on their own far more efficiently than is possible today.
This kind of future can seem daunting to a manufacturer. How will you get there? I think the answer is actually simple: the factory of the future won’t be built; it will evolve as manufacturers demand more integration and information sharing, and technology vendors respond by making their products smarter and more connected. (Here’s an interesting video on YouTube, with Rodney Brooks of Rethink Robotics explaining how the digitalized factory might evolve from the bottom up.)
But whatever the future of manufacturing turns out to be, one thing is certain: it won’t be like the present!
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