CHICAGO—Manufacturers who keep thinking smart manufacturing remains an academic problem run the risk of quick extinction, said panelists gathered for the inaugural Industry 4.0 ThinkTank in Chicago this month.
“It’s everyone’s problem,” said Tom McDermott, executive director of the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute (DMDII) in Chicago. “But principally, it’s industry’s problem. At the end of the day, if you do not … figure out how to ride on top of this tidal wave of technology and change that’s occurring, you’re going to be at the bottom of it.
“If you sit on the sidelines for too long, you’re done—because the world will move faster than you.”
McDermott pointed to another speaker at the event who relayed her firm’s experience with augmented reality (AR): “That technology is going through generational leaps every six to 12 months,” he said. “So, if you say, ‘In about a year and a half we’ll get to this’ and other people are actually figuring it out now, they’ll be three generations ahead of you” in that timeframe.
To begin adjusting to Industry 4.0, it is often a good idea for manufacturers to find academic partners—including those DMDII has recruited—that, for their part, need industry partners to help them transform “great ideas” concerning machine technology innovation into “specific, commercial solutions that large, multibillion-dollar companies can go incorporate to scale,” he said.
Part of DMDII’s mission is to bring together academics and industry executives. The private-public partnership is part of Manufacturing USA and currently has about $90 million worth of R&D, spread among 60 projects, going on.
DMDII has 320 partners already but welcomes more, McDermott said.
For example, Caterpillar Inc. partnered with DMDII, as well as Missouri University of Science & Technology and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, to dramatically adapt to the geometric variation when machining very large cast parts, he said in an interview with Smart Manufacturing following the panel talk.
The project combined laser technologies, virtual gage analysis and compensated NC programming to quickly adapt to incoming parts variations and reduce machining tool errors by as much as 80%.
This will greatly reduce scrap and increase productivity, McDermott said, noting that DMDII is working with a commercial partner to make this improvement widely available to industry.
Set a disaster recovery plan
Smart Manufacturing magazine Editor in Chief Brett Brune, who moderated the discussion on acknowledging the unknown, called cybersecurity “a very big, legitimate concern” for manufacturers adopting Industry 4.0—and asked the panel members to specifically address ransomware.
Now that traditional technologies from the IT side start are converging into the OT world, manufacturers are beginning to see IT threats to process work “introduce themselves into the production environment,” said Scott Christensen, cyber practice lead at Gray Matter Systems. “And we are starting to see these traditional viruses, such as ransomware, impact production environments. They’re taking over command-control functionality.
“Look at WannaCry, for example,” he said, referring to the new computer virus that last May inflicted damages estimated to cost industry $4 billion. “WannaCry was not necessarily intended to go after production environments. But many of the production environments were impacted because there was no security in play down low in the production network. So it was very easy to take control of the environment.”
Smart Manufacturing published a story that foreshadowed by four months the ransomware attacks of May 2017, Brune said. Shortly after publishing the article, he said, he met with executives at Revere Control Systems in Alabama who noted that the first time they had to defend themselves against ransomware, the US government’s official recommendation was to pay the ransom.
Today, there are two schools of thought about paying ransom, Christensen said.
“Once you pay the ransom, if you’ve not gotten rid of the exposure, you’re going to pay the ransom again—because they now know how to get in your pocketbook,” he added. “The other side is, if you’re down for any length of time, what’s the cost of the ransom” and how does it compare with the cost of the lost production time?
All manufacturers need to have a disaster recovery plan in place, he noted.
It is also important that manufacturers “be cognizant of your supply chain,” McDermott said. “We have a quarter of a million suppliers inside this country, the vast majority of which have less than 50 employees. They do not have a CSO. They do not have sophisticated IT support.”
Take cue from Boeing
Despite the cybersecurity risks that come with factory digitization and other aspects of smart manufacturing, sitting on the sidelines just isn’t an option if you want to stay in business, said Jonathan Sutter, founder of HackAThought.
The hearing aid industry went from subtractive manufacturing to additive manufacturing in less than 500 days, he said, referring to a Harvard Business Review case study published in 2015. “I bet a lot of people [in that industry] were sitting on their hands saying, ‘We can’t do anything. Let’s stay with status quo: It’s less risky.’”
Sutter also encouraged manufacturing execs attending the talk to work with academia, as Boeing and researchers from Iowa State University did recently to find a way to more efficiently make an airplane wing.
The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) sometimes flies clients to an innovation center it maintains at a university in the US to let them “get their hands dirty with the technology,” said Hector (Pepe) Rodriguez, a BCG principal who spends most of his time consulting with pharmaceutical companies on topics related to manufacturing and supply chain.
“I think the inertia that we need to work right now is more on the industry side,” in part because academics in labs are “trying to push the limits of the technology” rather than speedily turn out products, he said. In one instance, he witnessed an established manufacturer turning to a PhD student to solve an issue of color variations vexing his company’s production line.
Get ducks in a row
To get started on Industry 4.0, Dave McMorran, business development manager at the software firm Iconics, recommended first getting leadership to say, “We’re going to do this’ and then setting up a strategy and finding partners.”
Finding low-hanging fruit helps everyone involved, he said. “What are some of your pain points? Are you trying to reduce your energy costs, for example, or increase efficiency? If you’re looking at increasing efficiency, is it a quality issue, a productivity issue, availability?”
One of the first steps is often connecting equipment so data can be collected and analyzed, McMorran said.
Before going there, however, establish a “digital vision” and create a “very tactical” roadmap, Rodriguez said.
Often, he added, some low-hanging fruit can be found “just in leveraging the data you have.”