Brad Kuvin Brad Kuvin
Editorial Director

Technology and Innovation are Fueling the Growth of Manufacturing

October 1, 2014


Amongst the dazzling display of metalforming and fabricating technology set to be exhibited in Atlanta next month, I for one cannot wait to also sit in on some of the high-profile keynote presentations on the FABTECH agenda. At the very top of my must-attend list is Thursday morning’s (November 13) presentation by the head of manufacturing for Google Enterprise, Mike Walton. Because, as he will explain, not only are appliances, cars and other pieces of equipment becoming increasingly connected in an “Internet of things,” so are our metalforming and fabricating plants.

Consider this recent quote from William King, CTO at the UI Labs initiative, a public-private partnership funded in part by several Midwest manufacturers:

“Over the next decade, manufacturing will become completely digital. Factories will be run from tablet computers, and every machine tool in every factory will be connected to the Internet.”

I’m constantly reminded (and was again at IMTS in September) that the growth of manufacturing is fueled by technology. Google’s Walton will surely drive that message home, instructing attendees on how to accelerate new-product initiatives and time-to-profit.

Walker no doubt will include in his presentation some discussion of Google Glass and its coming applications in our industry. If that idea seems far-fetched, guess again. Back in June I attended the Plex user-community event (PowerPlex) in Grand Rapids, MI, where the cloud-based ERP-software provider demonstrated how Google Glass could seamlessly connect metalforming-plant workers—from the shop floor to the top floor. This integration enables workers to see and act on live data and shop-floor transactions. Such application of “wearable computing” will enable the flow of real-time actionable information.

Plex’s Jerry Foster, vice president, research and development, noted that “we see manufacturing as the first killer app for Google Glass, providing seamless connectivity to systems, machines, information and transactions for workers on the shop floor, where hands-free is an imperative.”

And it appears General Motors, for one, agrees. At the Center for Automotive Research (CAR) Management Briefing Seminars held in August, GM described the Google Glass test drives underway at its facilities, to learn how wearable information technology can help drive productivity.

Early adoption of the technology at GM is in training, so “instead of having people sitting in a conference room learning a process, they can do it all there on the line,” says GM North America non-portfolio project manager Tony Howell in a recent interview with The Wall Street Journal. In addition, GM workers can use Google Glass to take pictures of parts or trouble spots that they come across in the plant (hands-free), and send the images to engineers for review.

Plex also had a presence at the CAR meeting, where Jason Prater, vice president of development, described ongoing research being conducted with an automotive metalformer.

“The PC will be dead on the shop floor,” Prater said. The future, as he sees it, is turning people into walking sensors.

I can’t wait to hear what else Google has in mind for the manufacturing workplace.
Industry-Related Terms: Center, Run
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management

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