Not since the industrial revolution has manufacturing been able to trumpet a reputation as the place where the future happens today. However, over the last two decades, it has earned the reputation of being a noisy but dull branch of the modern technological world. Among the myriad of reports and studies about technological innovation, it is much more common now to hear manufacturing cited as an arena where so-called ‘digital transformation’ is being played out.
Why the change? Consider the evolution that started two decades earlier. From the 1980s, Information Technology (IT) was where the real excitement happened, driven by the microprocessor revolution. This was followed by the old world of Operational Technology (OT)– when valves, pumps, milling machines, metal pressers, lathes and conveyor belts joined the party. By embedding processors in OT and connecting everything in the factory to each other as well as the enterprise IT systems, manufacturers created the first version of ‘connected factories’.
A few years later, the ability to give any device an IP address opened the doors to the Internet of Things (IoT) and a new set of ‘hyper-connected’ possibilities for manufacturers. Now they could really see what was happening along entire supply and value chains.