ICYMI: Automation News Roundup, Week Ending March 27

Forget Smart Fridges – IIoT is What to Watch

TechRadar called out “everyday smart devices” like smart watches and smart kettles and told them to watch their back. There’s a force to be reckoned with in the “smart” world and it’s called the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT for short.

Photo courtesy of Neptune Pine2, Creative Commmons

Photo courtesy of Neptune Pine2, Creative Commmons

While some individuals may know it as Industry 4.0, GE is still credited with giving the concept of the IIoT its own identity.

Jamie Carter of TechRadar described the IIoT being responsible for “adding big data to create automated buildings, lighting, security, energy production, transportation, and industrial automation on a massive scale.”

Carter also pointed out that the IIoT is imperative in solving mission-critical problems– which, in turn, is shaping modern economics.

Using the example of streetlamps, Carter posits that with the help of the IIoT, a radio could be placed inside a light and then send alerts to signal that the light-bulb has burnt out and requires a fresh one.

And this is just an small-scale example of what the IIoT can revolutionize.

How to Avoid Becoming Extinct as Tech Changes

Photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar, Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Kate Ter Haar, Creative Commons

Howard Tullman uses the image of a modern Best Buy store to illustrate how technology is quickly on its way in and, on the other side, on its way out in the article published in the Chicago Tribune. 

Here’s what Tullman suggests to avoid becoming extinct:

  • Utilize multiple offline and online channels- it’s “all about the mix of offerings”
  • Be continually innovating- add new functionality wherever possible
  • Accept the modern trend of mobile computing & virtual consuming of entertainment- use it for your advantage
  • Monitor changes from analog to digital- most importantly, pay close attention to how it affects consumers

Driving a 3D-Printed Car through Manufacturing: A Q&A

Illustration courtesy of opensource, creative commons

Illustration courtesy of opensource, creative commons

Thanks to the Idea Laboratory by GE, we were treated with a detailed Q&A with CEO of Local Motors, Jay Rogers, about the process of creating the first 3D-printed car.

Rogers answers questions on 3D printing, sustainable transportation and the future of auto manufacturing in general.

“Idea Lab: You developed the first fully functional 3D-printed car. How will 3D printing technology and the way it’s used evolve? Are we moving closer to the democratization of manufacturing?

Rogers: At Local Motors, we view 3D printing (additive manufacturing) as just one of the many tools available in a suite of tools used to make things. Depending on the function and design, it may make more sense to form, cut, weld, fasten or coat material. It is important to note that 3D printing is not a “one tool fits all” solution — like anything, there are inherent benefits and drawbacks to the technique.

Perhaps the greatest advantage that 3D printing has over other manufacturing methods is that it gives the user control of where materials are placed. Smart designers are able to create complex pieces optimized for strength and weight. The net result is designs that are lighter, require vastly reduced assembly time and are digital, meaning they can be modified with a few strokes of a keyboard. Imagine each successive build of an object improving over the last with features that are uniquely tailored to the requirements of the end user. 3D printing has enabled us to make this vision a reality.”

Read the rest of the conversation at GE’s Idea Lab.

Let us Air our Grievances: Technology Edition

Photo courtesy of Omer, Creative Commons

Photo courtesy of Omer, Creative Commons

Technology is a wonderful thing- it’s a fact that’s indisputably proven every  day.

However, just like a college roommate or a co-worker that you see day after day, an overuse of some parts of technology can easily cause an emotional response.

I’ll admit it- forgetting a password can be one of the most aggravating mishaps you encounter in a workday.

Well, a few hundred of Wall Street Journal’s readers also felt strongly about particular nuisances in technology, and shared them for the “Tech Fails” article:

Waiting for Windows. Whether it is an update or reboot or whatever, Windows [7] makes you wait. My time has value but Microsoft doesn’t seem to understand that.

—Phil Duclos, Longmont, Colo.

Apps you can’t delete. You can only bury them deep in a folder. We know how to download apps already. Why does Apple need to put a Watch icon on every device [via iOS 8.2 update] months before launch?

—Ryan Plumley, Dayton, Ohio

Voice mails. Don’t leave them. Don’t make me stop what I’m doing to listen to a message that I could have read in an SMS or email.

—Greg Schrage, Lenexa, Kan.

 Meet Sawyer: Rethink Robotics’s New Robot

Sawyer is described to be primarily used for machine-tending, circuit-board testing and other detailed tasks according to the IEEE Spectrum. 

Specs provided by IEEE Spectrum:

  • Weight: 19 kg (42 lbs)
  • Payload: 4 kg (8.8 lb)
  • Reach: 7 degrees of freedom and 1-meter reach
  • Actuation: Series elastic actuator and Harmonic Drive, with optical encoder
  • Repeatability: N/A
  • Force sensing: High-resolution force sensing embedded at each joint
  • Vision: Camera in the head for wide field of view and Cognex camera with built-in light source in the wrist for precision vision applications
  • Software: Intera, with software updates every 4 months
  • Body: Sealed against dust and spray [Baxter isn’t]
  • Expected lifetime: 30,000 hours
  • Price: US $29,000 (available in North America, Europe, China, and Japan)

Watch the video:

Media We Link to:

“Forget Smart Fridges- The Industrial Internet of Things is the Real Revolution” – TechRadar 

 “How to Avoid Being Extinct” – Tullman, Chicago Tribune

“Driving a 3D-Printed Car Through Manufacturing” – GE Idea Laboratory 

 “Tech Fails: What Annoys You about Technology” – WSJ

 “Meet Sawyer: Rethink Robotics Unveils New Robot” – IEEE Spectrum

Featured image – by  Sebastiaan ter Burg 

Keeping People in Project Management

The building of the Pyramids is often linked to mystery or even sci-fi theories, but it should be linked to project management. It’s said that it took 10 to 20 years to complete the Great Pyramid of Giza- can you imagine if they simply decided to “wing it” instead?

Great example of project management Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Just think how potentially disastrous the construction of the Empire State Building or the development of the NASA space shuttle would be had project management not been applied.

While it’s technically rooted in these historic missions and many more, project management has recently become something of a new buzzword for describing a rapidly growing, organizational discipline.
Careers are often made and broken on the strength of ‘Projects’. This particular venue offers the urgency of task completion as well as a tool for evaluating managerial skill.

The emergence of tools, certifications, metrics and other established methods have helped to standardize ‘Project Management’ within several mainstream industries. The emergent tools are essential to the science of Project Management, but the art of Project Management is a testament to leadership skills, organizational politics and competitive posturing.

The art of Project Management is expressed through the people who take it on.

The increasing demand for good Project Managers and good project team members comes at a time when there is very little wiggle room between individual job responsibilities and emergent organizational activity.

Project Management has Gone Mainstream:

  • Projects are management-training opportunities: There is a wisdom that comes with knowing how to position an employee for long-term leadership opportunities by way of the project. The experience, combined with project management certification, will go a long way to demonstrating commitment.
  • Projects are budget management opportunities: Budgets are an essential part of the project management life. Completing projects on or under budget is a specific, measurable skill that will dictate further success. It is a rare project manager who, after uttering the words, ‘We’re over budget’, has heard their Project Leader say, “Hey, no problem!”
  • Projects are time management opportunities: Time is elusive when not measured against a progressive activity. How time is used, especially when overseeing the activities of a project team, can make or break its completion.
  • Projects are vision development opportunities: The role of any leader is to provide a clear vision as to the direction of the organization. The Project Manager has the opportunity to develop that skill at a smaller scale.

Drawing Upon Collective Social Capital (Developing Strong Team Bonds)

The importance of intellectual and social capital in the project team most fundamentally, the successful completion of these activities will depend on selecting project team members with appropriate knowledge, skills and expertise.

Ideally, project teams will be chosen so that their members have a mix of knowledge and capabilities in order to ensure team diversity and representation. We can refer to this as the intellectual capital of the team – the ‘knowledge and knowing capability of the collectivity’.

Photo of project management team, courtesy of Highways Agency, creative commons

Photo courtesy of Highways Agency, creative commons

While intellectual capital and its mix across the team is important, it is unlikely that all team members will have all the relevant knowledge and expertise necessary. Rather, members will need to network with a range of other individuals in order to make sense of both organizational processes (‘as is’ and ‘to be’) and the ERP system. In doing this they will be drawing upon their collective social capital.
In other words, teams who have developed strong bonds are more likely to balance the extent to which they use their social capital bridges for the public or private good.

Where this strong bonding does not exist, team members are likely to feel limited normative commitment to using their social capital bridges for the public good of the project. Perhaps more importantly from the knowledge-integration perspective, even if they do use their social capital bridges to access relevant and important knowledge for the project, the internal team context will not provide the environment for the effective integration and use of this knowledge.

Don’t Forget About Strong Communication Skills

Photo of project management professional courtesy freeimages.com

Photo courtesy freeimages.com

Communication skills are also important for the entire team. For the team leader, they are absolutely critical.

When one considers the amount of time people spend communicating with his team, the project sponsor, stakeholders, and senior managers throughout the organization- it becomes readily apparent that a poor communicator has almost no chance of completing the project as planned. The team requires not only excellent speaking skills, but writing skills due to the need for written reports.

Problem solving is more than evaluating a problem and determining a solution; it also involves making a decision. Project problems can be the result of technical incompatibilities or even the lack of a technical capability. They can be interpersonal in nature, or they could result from functional managers reassigning one or more of the resources.

They also can take the form of external difficulties with environmental or other stakeholder groups. Whatever the source, it is the team’s responsibility to assess the problem and determine the best course of action to resolve it.

Featured photo courtesy of Waag Society. 

ICYMI: Automation News Roundup, Week Ending March 20

An Alliance for the Internet of Things

Dave Greenfield of Automation World discussed the alliance made by the Open Interconnect Consortium (OIC) and the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) last week in an article. 

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Specifically, Greenfield points out that standardization for devices and systems is imperative in a time where the Internet of Things is such a popular topic- a buzzword, at times.

Basically, the IIC will begin to share its use cases and more requirements, while the OIC  vows to deliver necessary functions in an “IoT communications framework” for their project, IoTivity.

“This liaison was developed as a result of both consortiums’ desire for interoperability in the industrial IoT,” said Richard Soley, executive director, Industrial Internet Consortium to Automation World, “By sharing use cases with the OIC, we will identify new scenarios that will ultimately result in systematic interoperability between devices.”

A Eulogy for Internet Explorer

Microsoft’s marketing chief announced on Monday that the company will be “laying our longtime pal to rest upon the forthcoming release of Windows 10, which will feature a browser with another name,” according to an article published in Newsweek. 

Paul Meija pokes a little harmless fun at the browser and writes from the point of view of an old friend politely saying some last words at IE’s funeral.

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

It’s successor, Project Spartan, will be included with the official release of Windows 10. It is said to include page annotation, extension support, and the integration of Microsoft’s Cortana.

Still, Meija reminds us to remember our tired, old friend, Internet Explorer:

“Yes, the future is uncertain. But let’s raise a virtual lighter for our beloved Internet Explorer, a blue beacon of discovery, forever available in the unnatural midnight light of a computer screen. Farewell, old friend,” wrote Meija.

Cyber Security in Your Company

Some employees are guilty of more than just not replacing the water jug.

CIO reported that some employees accidentally compromise their company’s cyber security without even knowing it.

“Don’t think this is an uncommon occurrence. It is so common that, in a recent survey commissioned by Sungard Availability Services*, leaving laptops and mobile phones in vulnerable places was the #1 problem area noted by respondents,” reported CIO. 

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

Photo courtesy of freeimages.com

What you can do:

  • Encrypt the laptop’s hard drive
  • Enforce strong passwords
  • Freeze the employee’s account (this would be the “reactive” option)
  • Place tracking software on laptops/devices
  • Forbid employees to store data on laptops – instead, store on the server
  • Regularly educate employees on cyber security

How Food Waste can be Valuable- A Video

GE  Water and Technologies hosted a video of Bill Griffiths, National Recycling Manager, Viridor explaining  how anaerobic digestion can turn food waste into two separate products and thus, reduces landfill waste.

Watch the video here:

Big Data, I’ll be Brief

Gil Press for Forbes published a “very short” history of Big Data two years ago that is still relevant today while looking at the roots of the trend.

The first entry in the timeline reaches all the way back to 1944.  A Wesleyan University librarian, Fremont Rider, predicts the future when he estimated that American libraries will double in size.

Rider wrote in The Scholar and the Future of the Research Library, that the Yale Library in 2040 will have “approximately 200,000,000 volumes, which will occupy over 6,000 miles of shelves… [requiring] a cataloging staff of over six thousand persons,” according to Press.

Press catalogs 1996 as the year that digital storage becomes the most cost-effective solution for storing data as opposed to just paper.

He leads the reader through decades of information detailing how big data will become the norm all the way up to recent years.

GE “Jumps Into the Fray” of the IIoT

CNBC highlighted GE’s dedication to the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) in both a recent article and video.

“The concept is simple: making industrial machines smarter, through the adoption of sensors, software and big data analytics. As consumers become increasingly reliant on the information provided by mobile devices and smart technology, IIoT seeks to do the same for business by streamlining operations and making them more efficient,” said CNBC‘s report.

CNBC also said that Accenture reports an economical impact- that IIoT expenditures could reach $500 billion by 2020, and could even add $15 trillion to global growth by 2030.

“We started with this idea that the world of software and machines was really coming together, and we felt that software was going to transform industrial machines,” said Bill Ruh, vice president of the GE Software Center in the CNBC story.

The video on CNBC: 



Media we link to:

“Alliance to Foster Internet of Things Interoperability” – Automation World

“A Eulogy for Internet Explorer” – Newsweek 

“How Employees Accidentally Compromise Their Company’s Cyber Security” – CIO 

“Anaerobic Digestion Turns Food Waste into Valuable Products” – GE 

“A Very Short History of Big Data” – Forbes

“GE jumps into the fray of industrial Internet” – CNBC 


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