NAM Taps Internet of Things to Advance U.S. Manufacturing

Things are changing and you can’t ignore it.

That was the theme of a recent discussion between NAM president Jay Timmons, and Boston-based software company PTC, which has positioned itself as a leader in the IoT space.

The meeting was a follow-up to an earlier NAM event focused on the Internet of Things, a gathering that attracted industry heavyweights like Texas Instruments, Joy Global, and Rockwell Automation, as well as Harvard Business School’s Michael Porter, who recently coauthored an article with PTC on the future of smart, connected products.

High on the agenda at both meetings: the role of the IoT and smart connectivity in the growth of U.S. based advanced manufacturing.

With IoT technology in play, “everything is becoming advanced,” said PTC’s CEO Jim Heppelmann.

As products become more complex—made up of systems of hardware, software, sensors, data storage, and microprocessors—they create new opportunities for manufacturers and related businesses.

Anything that can be fitted with a digital component—like a bike, or even a wallboard—can be defined in the context of advanced manufacturing, Heppelmann said.

To illustrate his point, Heppelmann showed a demonstration of a bike adorned with sensors and hooked up to a web browser. A dashboard displayed a real-time digital duplicate of the bike. If this data was fed back into the CAD model, it could provide valuable information about how the product performs and inform next-generation designs, Heppelmann said.

“It’s like creating a user interface on something that doesn’t have a user interface,” he said

And it shows the practical application of IoT and how it relates to PTC’s CAD and PLM business.

The convergence of the digital and physical will be very good for U.S. manufacturing, Heppelmann said. Manufacturers will be able to use big data to improve the design process as well as productivity on the factory floor, product delivery, and customer experience.

PTC has around 30 thousand customers worldwide, 50 percent of those are domestic. Its recent IoT event pulled in an audience of over 6,000 from industries including electronics and high-tech, manufacturing, industrial equipment, medical devices, and energy and utilities.

But sensors and data collection are only a small component of the IoT, said Hepplemann.

The right data analytics tools and talent are also essential. Sensors can provide raw data on specific components within a product or machine, but it’s only through data analytics you can identify patterns and make predictions, Heppelmann said.

The explosion of this relatively new field will require a different set of skills than traditionally taught in STEM related fields, Heppelmann said.

PTC is leading the charge. Along with its involvement in FIRST Robotics and other engineering based programs, it’s also developing IoT focused programs with over 200 universities—70 percent of which are U.S. based—to help accelerate the acquisition of this new skill set.

On top of this, Heppelmann said, manufacturers must develop centers of excellence for IoT. He pointed to Philips, CAT, and German-based Bosch as leaders in this area.

Despite the need to develop new skills, Heppelmann said, the U.S. is uniquely positioned to lead the way in IoT, standing head and shoulders above the rest of the world in terms of its raw talent and technology.

But merging the IoT into manufacturing will take time.

Recent research shows that although most manufacturers believe the IoT will have a positive impact on their business, the majority don’t have a plan set in place.

Most traditional manufacturers struggle with where to start. Seemingly simple things like who should head up a company’s IoT strategy—engineering or in IT, for instance—can be a huge hurdle.

The IoT is transforming business models, Heppelmann said. Creating more opportunity for after sales services, but less control over suppliers, the majority of which are software vendors.

And there’s a fundamental shift in how factories create and operate their products, Heppelmann said.  “How do you make continued changes to a system that is already being used and also manage customer success?”

Tesla’s partial autopilot is a prime example, Heppelmann said. “Buy it now, and we’ll update it later.”

The path to IoT adoption is a long one, Heppelmann said. There’s a variety of smart, connected products already out there, but it will be a while before we realize complete system-to-system operations like those envisioned for smart cities.

But the conversation must begin now.

“It’s fascinating to see this new revolution that changes so many processes and customer expectations,” Timmons said. “I see the younger set, in their mid-forties, and they are trying to figure out their competitors, but then there are others who don’t worry,’ he said.

“You can see who is going to make it.”

Photo by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)


Filed under: Executive View Tagged: Internet of things, IoT, manufacturing, smart connected products