Tracing The “Digital Thread” in Manufacturing

By April 13, 2016 No Comments

Last month, APX had the pleasure of participating in the National Association of Manufactures’ (NAM) most recent Leading Edge forum on the role of Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in modern manufacturing facilities, held at GE’s Advanced Manufacturing and Software Technology Center (AMSTC) in Detroit. NAM brought together an incredible mix of industry influencers to discuss how IIoT is transforming today’s manufacturing processes as we know it.

IIoT, or otherwise thought of as “smart connected products,” are being infused into so much of our lives, it should come as no surprise that these types of devices are starting to have an effect in the workplace; especially on manufacturing floors. This concept was promoted last fall by Dr. Michael Porter and James Heppelmann, CEO of PTC, in an article in Harvard Business Review entitled “ How Smart Connected Products Are Transforming Companies”, who attended the event and spoke on this topic further. In their talk, Professor Porter and Mr. Heppelmann expanded on the ability for devices to become more aware of their environments and return data that holds value important to a broad range of consumers, such as the farmer in John Deere’s smart tractors example, or the “player” in Babolat’s smart tennis racket scenario. In terms of manufacturing, this means that either products being built or the machines building those products can independently measure and report their status throughout the process as this technology evolves.

During the second session, APX CEO Brian Ballard sat on a panel with Dave Bartlett, the CTO of Current, and Matt Rendall, CEO of Clearpath Robotics Inc., that was moderated by Paul Boris, the Head of Manufacturing Industries at GE Digital. Each participant shared their insights on the implications of these connected technologies across utilities, manufacturing, and logistics.  Dave Bartlett shared his perspectives on “intelligent energy” virtual power plant technologies actively being piloted by Current. Matt Rendell spoke about his companies’ work in autonomous vehicles for logistics, and Brian Ballard spoke in depth about how APX’s Skylight can be used with worker worn wearable devices to extend the GE’s Digital Thread concept to Smart Manufacturing, ultimately creating Brilliant Factories.

All these sessions boiled to one core idea: the availability of data is driving the functionality of the manufacturing facility of tomorrow.  The role of smart connected products will impact industry to the point where the actual products are reporting their status throughout the manufacturing process. Companies who embrace IIoT will be the ultimate champions of their markets, since connected workforce is an empowered workforce.  This is where APX is positioned well, as wearable devices are uniquely positioned to help workers monitor their “Digital Twin” in the Digital Thread concept. So that rather than tracking production through employees tied to workstations, information is tracked through the Digital Thread that connects products and people in the Brilliant Factory. Facilities that embrace this movement to will see great benefits to their products, and also start to redefine core roles within organizations.