I am writing this blog post to bring out the essence of our discussions that occurred during the”FT-PTC Future of Industrial Innovation Global Series” organized in New York yesterday. Manufacturing industry thinktank and senior leadership personas have come together to exchange ideas on how manufacturers are adopting new-age technologies to compete.
A joint keynote address from Dr. Michael Porter and James Heppelmann (Jim), CEO of PTC, was an excellent “confluence of thought” that brought together strategic mindset and technology acumen.
While the siloed productivity of human and machine/product has been evolving over decades, the Digital technologies are offering capabilities that can enable progress to the global optima and excellence creating Human-Machine/Products-Digital Advantage. Machine and Products are interchangeably used from now on in the context of manufacturing. The connection between Products/Machine and Digital (Cloud, Digital Twin, etc.) has been established for some time. This connection enables sensing of a product’s data by digital technologies (edge/embedded) or digital controlling through the optimization of products/machines. But there is a lag between the human-machine and the human-digital connection compared to the digital-machine connection. This lag is causing the “discontinuity” of humans in human-machine-digital ecosystems.
Prof. Porter elaborated on the manufacturing evolution to date as shown below. His vision of the next phase in the evolution is “Smart Connected People”. He emphasized that this phenomenon is happening now with progress from connected products (IIoT) to Smart Connected People with the advent of Augmented Reality (AR) on occasions combined with Virtual Reality (VR) and Xtreme Reality (XR).
Today’s interfaces separate the physical and digital worlds. A prime example being the GPS system in the car. The 2D display on the GPS shows directions, but human cognizance has to take that input, process it, and finally execute it. This 2D to the 3D gap is what Dr. Porter referred to as “Cognitive Distance” which results in “Cognitive Load”. Imagine a “Heads Up” display leveraging AR that minimizes and eliminates the cognitive distance and cognitive load. AR narrows the cognitive distance by integrating the Digital world into the Physical world, seamlessly.
Digital transformation is leapfrogging the industrial and manufacturing progress continuum from Monitor -> Control -> Optimize to “Autonomy”. AR technology is uplifting the human connection by enabling visualization and collecting the instruction to pass on to the machine. Technologies like computer vision are promoting the human-machine interaction such that the embedded software & systems are allowing humans to diagnose the inner workings of products which were an earlier limitation. In scenarios where AR gets dangerous, VR can fill the gap with simulations and move forward. Thus, the Human-Machine-Digital equilibrium is being established to drive the next-level of industrial innovation.
Prof. Porter’s strategic foresight was well complemented by Jim’s real-world technology development and use cases. New-age digital technologies are expanding industry boundaries through precision agriculture and smart city solutions. In the past, products progressed to smart products and then became connected smart products but the present and future of industrial evolution revolve around “product System” and “System of Systems”. All-in-all it was great mindshare on today’s manufacturing excellence. I am parking the detailed description of use cases to my next blog post.
I summarize this post with two important closing thoughts from Dr. Porter and Jim.
- AR enables People as IoT enables Assets/Products
- Enabling more effective training and guidance to address the shortage of skilled front-line workers
- Enhancing worker productivity through better collaboration with machines
- Counterbalancing the shift to automation by empowering human workers
- Both IoT and AR combined to change the competitive environment, requiring new strategic choices and organizational models. For example,
- Technology development: internal or outsource?
- Disintermediate distribution or service channels?
- change the business model?
In the end, I interacted with Prof. Porter to reflect on the discussions of the day and sought his expert comments on the man-machine inflection point. Here is the gist of my discussion. Over the past decades, the industry experienced a gradual reduction in annual work hours, resulting in the gradual improvement of productivity and output. One key attribute of productivity is man-machine collaboration. With digital technologies, the man-machine inflection further uplifted the productivity to 2X, 4X and in the panel discussion yesterday, one company executive was mentioning about 9X productivity gains. In view of this, my questions were,
- Where does the productivity multiplication (constant uplift of human-machine combined productivity/inflection point) lead next?
- In the near future, is it going to be survival of the fittest between a human vs machine as the trend line of annual working hours continue to decline?
- In the long term, would machine constantly chase & replace the humans or the cognitive distance prevail in the foreseen future?
I will follow up with Dr. Porter on this and share further learnings. Stay tuned!!