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What is Equipment? A Case for Smart Manufacturing

What is industrial equipment? That question has been ringing through my head for years. It's a sort of internal exploration/sanity check I revisit often when dealing with all of the fantastic new technologies and innovations erupting in the manufacturing industry.

What is industrial equipment? That question has been ringing through my head for years. It’s a sort of internal exploration/sanity check I revisit often when dealing with all of the fantastic new technologies and innovations erupting in the manufacturing industry.

Since coming on board at NED, that question has been ringing much, much louder.

Recently, I finally had the opportunity to answer it.

Last month, I found myself at stage lecturing a crowd of software engineers and ERP experts at the Exact Macola Evolve 2015 Conference about smart manufacturing and 3-D printing. Two of my favorite subjects.

When it came time for my Q&As, I was inevitably asked the most obvious question: What on Earth is the editor of New Equipment Digest doing at a software conference?

In other words, what does technology have to do with equipment?

My answer: Everything.

Manufacturing equipment, I told them, is no longer just hardware. And on the same hand, manufacturing technology is no longer just software.

We’ve reached a point in the evolution of the industry where the two sides are merging into one element—a kind of swirling, interconnected mix of smart machines and smart tools with software suites and analytics programs that together are driving new levels of efficiency and whole new worlds of capabilities down on the factory floor.

Call it what you want—smart manufacturing, the Internet of Things, the Industrial Internet of Things, or whatever other catchphrase of the day—but this merger is a very real and absolutely vital element in manufacturing today.

Talking about hardware without discussing the software that drives it—or designs it, for the matter—is only telling half of the story. The same goes the other way around.

I attended the Exact Macola event to make that case. If we want to drive the most value out of our equipment and our software, we have to embrace this merger. We have to study it, work with it, and see what it can really do.

In that sense, a software conference is the best possible place for an editor of New Equipment Digest to be.

Going forward, I think it’s time to bring that element into the pages of NED.

Over the next few months, we’re going to begin expanding our definition of equipment here to include both sides of the movement.

Understand, that doesn’t mean plunging blindly into pure software. And it doesn’t mean abandoning the hardcore manufacturing equipment we’ve been covering for the last 80 years, either.

It means beginning an exploration into smart manufacturing—finding the digital tools that supplement and enable that equipment to perform better and presenting them here as they really are: new equipment.

It’s an exciting endeavor and one that I can’t wait to see unfold on these pages.

I’d like for you to be involved in this process.

What kind of digital tools impact your work? What kind of software are you looking for? What does this all mean to you? Let me know at [email protected]

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