U.S. Reenters Manned Space Flight

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 National Association of Manufacturers 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, practically anything can be defined in the context of advanced manufacturing,” 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.

To illustrate his point, Heppelmann gave 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 in action. 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 businesses.

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 just the beginning, Hepplemann said. 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 that you can identify patterns and make predictions, Heppelmann said.

This relatively new field will require a different set of skills from those traditionally taught in STEM education, Heppelmann said.

PTC is leading the charge. Along with its involvement in FIRST Robotics and other engineering based initiatives, 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 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 IT, for instance—can be a huge hurdle.

The IoT is transforming business models, Heppelmann said. Creating more opportunity for after-sales services, but lessening control over suppliers, many of which are large and powerful software vendors.

And there’s a fundamental shift in how factories create and operate their products, Heppelmann said. They’ll have to ask themselves questions like, “How do I make continued changes to a system that is already being used?”

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.

Regardless, 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, and they are trying to figure out their competitors, but then there are others who don’t worry,” he said.

“You can see which one of the two is going to make it.”

Photo by Steve Jurvetson on Flickr (CC BY 2.0)