Analytics is just the beginning of the IoT journey for manufacturers. There are already positive examples of machine control via the cloud. Authentise CEO Andre Wegner delivered that glimmer of hope recently to people gathered around a topic table at the Industry of Things World USA 2017 conference in San Diego.
Authentise has made a name for itself selling software that helps manage global fleets of industrial 3D printers. Makers of athletic clothing, industrial goods and planes, as well as large distributed contract manufacturers, are among the clients, he said in an interview with Smart Manufacturing magazine, declining to name companies because of NDAs.
The group to which Wegner spoke was drawn to this question posed by the conference organizers: What are the best practices for an optimal IT and OT collaboration?
Another person at the table asked whether any firms were already getting operations technology (OT) and information technology (IT) folks to play nice in the cloud.
Authentise provides systems “to customer who are comfortable with a managed cloud, as well as those who are deciding to host it on premise,” Wegner said. “We do what the customer wants, and are seeing about an even split in public cloud adoption. That’s probably more than most since industrial 3D printing is a new market and devices are most often already connected.”
And yet there are conference-goers who wonder: Why would I go into the cloud?
“One of the key benefits is that you can have all your facilities on a single dashboard,” he said. “So analytics is one of the key drivers for adoption at the moment.
While analytics may be a great way to get started, “it doesn’t really provide very good ROI for manufacturing, Wegner said. Manufacturing has production planning timelines of 2–5 years for new products. So to get insight and then effect a change takes a long time and you don’t see that immediate ROI.”
Analytics is a good initial move, but “it’s much more important to start thinking actively about what command-and-control infrastructure you can put in place to send data directly into the machine,” he said.
Benefits to that idea include greater security around the manufacturing process—“because the recipient doesn’t receive the actual data file; we can send the data directly into the printer without the job shop receiving the data,” he added.
Efficiency gains are also a key benefit. “We can create virtual networks of assets and distribute the manufacturing load across those assets in accordance to business rules,” Wegner said.
Authentise is being pulled in a lot of directions, he asserted.
Integration of the CNC machines and laser cutters that work with 3D printers is one reason. “Once you’ve got an iPhone, you’re never going back to a feature phone,” Wegner said. “It’s the same with the software we’re building: Once our customers realize the benefits of having the software, they ask us to start supporting other equipment.”
On top of that, the hosted-services work his firm does helps operators automate their own workflows. “We’ve definitely built a head start in connected manufacturing thanks to our market entry via 3D printing,” he said.
Many in the crowd at the OT/IT discussion table in San Diego appeared to be “just starting to think about even connecting their devices,” Wegner observed. “In manufacturing as a whole, there are still a lot of conversations to be had.”