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BW Businessworld

The Man And The Machine

If planned properly, a manufacturer can conceptualize, make, and bring a new product to a consumer in half the time taken earlier

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Suman Bose is an evangelist. And he is not too shy of admitting he is one. The former managing director and CEO of Siemens Industry Software India speaks passionately about the positive impact of technology on society and the economy. Ask him about how robots and automation are killing jobs across the world, and he scoffs at the suggestion. Whenever he gets a chance to address a large gathering of industry leaders and professionals, he firmly attacks the view that automation and machines are hurting the economy. A story he loves to share is about washing machines and women in the US.

‘When washing machines became popular in the US in the 1920s, it saved a lot of time for women. They could get their household work done faster. Not surprisingly, they soon had more time on their hands,’ Bose says. In the decades following the advent of household machines, women could stay away from home longer and they joined the workforce.

A study by the University of Montreal says that technology liberated women. ‘These innovations changed the lives of women,’ says Prof. Emanuela Cardia, Department of Economics, who presented the study in 2009. ‘Although it wasn’t a revolution per se, the arrival of this technology in households had an important impact on the workforce and the economy.’ Prof. Cardia based her research on more than 3,000 censuses conducted between 1940 and 1950, from thousands of American households, across urban and rural areas. ‘We calculated that women who loaded their stove with coal saved 30 minutes every day with an electric stove,’ says Cardia. ‘The result is that women flooded the workforce. In 1900, five per cent of married women had jobs.

In 1980, that number jumped to 51 per cent.’ In 1913, the vacuum cleaner became available, in 1916 it was the washing machine, in 1918 the refrigerator, in 1947 the freezer, and in 1973 the microwave.

All of these technologies had an impact on home life, but none had a stronger impact than did running water. Bose says such studies show that new technology has helped the economy and society over the years. Siemens is now working with global and Indian companies to improve technology to produce smarter machines in the cleverest of ways. ‘Cyber-physical systems are changing the way machines are made and used,’ he says.

Let’s try to understand what this means. Simply put, it means the entire process of production as well as delivery is connected through a technology platform. The cyber-physical is a dimension of the IoT where every single process, component, and system is connected on a relevant platform.

This may seem obvious, but it is not so. Take the example of a car maker. There are several steps in the manufacture of a car. From concept to design to manufacture to delivery, there are different functions for which there are different teams and companies at work.

While this applies to the car itself, it is equally applicable to all its components. A single car has over 30,000 components. Each of the components and sub-systems is made by different companies. One component is made and embedded in a larger one. These together form a sub-system like the steering wheel. The sub-systems then get fixed with a larger system, which then combines with another, and so on until all of them are put together on an assembly line as a single unit, the car, and rolled out of the assembly line.

All this requires tremendous planning and coordination. While each company playing its part has a software that connects its internal organization and manufacturing, this software is not necessarily connected with those of other parts makers or the final car maker.

In the IoT framework, every single component will be connected to others and to the final car through an elaborate network, from concept and design to final delivery and usage. The use of sensors on raw materials and components means that each piece that goes into the car carries information about itself that can be tracked and monitored at all times. Imagine trying to manage hundreds of students of a school group in a crowded amusement park. A connected system will allow constant monitoring of who is where and doing what. Similarly, a manufacturer can monitor every stage of every component and its assembly through the information carried by the component. The product itself becomes an active part of the production process.

The life-cycle of a typical component or product consists of design, production planning, production engineering, production execution and finally, services like delivery, etc. Companies like Siemens now offer solutions that enable a manufacturer to place the entire production life-cycle on a common, connected platform.

The advantages are immense. Experts like Bose believe that integrating product and production life-cycles can reduce time to market by 50 per cent. Effectively, this means that, planned properly, a manufacturer can conceptualize, make, and bring a new product to a consumer in half the time taken earlier. This is a significant advancement, since high levels of technology obsolescence and fast-changing consumer tastes can be satiated by rapid creation of new products. Another advantage is higher flexibility in manufacturing. If the product design has to be changed or some elements have to be amended, the connected system can react instantly and respond appropriately. And in the end the system allows high levels of efficiency not just in terms of time but in the use of resources too.

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