Friday, June 27, 2014

The internet of (green) things

Or … what would my refrigerator tell me if it could talk?

Recently I was at a conference on manufacturing where I was caught in in an avalanche of buzzwords … cloud, big data, internet of things, industrial internet, connectivity, connected revolution and so on. This feeding frenzy of connectivity and data is driven by a number of things, real and imagined. Businesses see opportunity for enhanced productivity and reduced time from design to production. Other businesses see opportunities for providing services and products to an informed customer - all at much greater speed. Others still see a chance to offer analysis capabilities to convert the “firehose stream of data” to a manageable set of results and metrics.

For example, in the manufacturing domain, General Electric is driving the creation of an “industrial internet” which GE expects will define how “industrial equipment with sophisticated sensors will be linked over a network that connects people to machines and machines to one another to boost efficiency.” They won’t be taking to refrigerators, at first, but jet engines to indicate potential maintenance requirement or, closer to the factory, failure potential and maintenance needs of sensor-enabled machinery on the factory floor.

In the manufacturing space. a leading commercial computer aided manufacturing (CAM) software provider, DP Technology/ESPRIT, has introduced a cloud-enabled tool path planning capability  - cloud-enabled CAM. The ESPRIT MachiningCloud Connection gives programmers (the smart folks that create the instructions and select the tooling to allow sophisticated numerically controlled machine tools to create the complex physical components that make up manufactured products) access to complete and up-to-date tooling product data, cutting hours of programming time by eliminating manual tool creation. This would have been done with physical paper catalogs of tools, configurations, cutting inserts, and other peripheral hardware to make it work (think of shopping at Sears or Target before websites, online catalogs or Amazon! If you are old enough to recall Sear’s paper catalog which was like a phone book for a large city, if you are old enough to remember phone books too, it is an interesting but long and manual process!). This capability simplifies the selection of cutting tools and, better yet,  offers a list of recommended cutting tools based on machining features and machining sequences that are planned. Finally, the programmer or manufacturing engineer can simulate the machine operation and behavior with accurate 3D models of tool components and assemblies.

In the design and collaboration space, Autodesk has introduced Autodesk 360 for design innovation and collaboration.  More than just two dimensional “drafting,” this cloud-based tool that provides free online data storage and a powerful, secure set of tools that improves the way engineers and others can design, visualize, and simulate anywhere and with “virtually infinite computing power”. This also simplifies collaboration among co-designers and customers, and streamlines workflows.

And then, of course, things that talk to you. Top of this list is probably the Nest thermostat recently acquired by Google, Inc. By use of training cycles, and observing your “behavior,” it learns what temperatures you like and builds a personalized schedule. Nest says if one teaches it efficient temperatures for a few days within a week, the thermostat will start setting temperature schedules on its own. And, with the Nest app you can connect to the thermostat from a smartphone and, if arriving home early (or later) change the temperature miles from home.

So what is the internet of things anyway? My favorite first “go to” source is a Google search which, usually, gets a Wikipedia hit right off … for “internet of things” Wikipedia defines the term (and acronym IoT) as referring to “uniquely identifiable objects and their virtual representations in an Internet-like structure.“  Apparently this term has been in discussion since the early ‘90s and was formally proposed by Kevin Ashton in 1999 (Ashton, Kevin, "That 'Internet of Things' Thing, in the real world things matter more than ideas," RFID Journal, 22 June 2009.) though the concept has been discussed since at least 1991. Wikipedia goes on to explain that In 1994, the Internet of Things was known as “control networks,” which Reza Raji discussed in an IEEE Spectrum article as “[moving] small packets of data to a large set of nodes, so as to integrate and automate everything from home appliances to entire factories.”

Home appliances to entire factories! All communicating with other devices, computers and, presumably, people.

But what might the effect of this integration and resulting actions be? Better productivity? Increased consumption? Smart consumption? Smart and sustainable consumption? It depends.

Capitalizing on this drive to connectivity Amazon has recently introduced their own “smart phone." The New York Times article characterizes this as “a device that tries to fulfill the retailer’s dream of being integrated into consumers’ lives at every possible waking moment — whether they are deciding where to eat, realizing they need more toilet paper or intrigued by a snatch of overheard music.” Meaning … sell, sell, sell!

So, are we making progress or not? A quote from Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard in a conversation to an audience of hundreds of CSR officers and aspiring eco-preneurs may offer some insight. He said “If these Fortune 500 companies are now cleaning up their act, then why is the world still going to hell?” “The elephant in the room is growth: you make an energy-efficient refrigerator, so then you buy two of them. Not one public company will voluntarily restrict growth to save the planet.”  Well … that does not sound very encouraging.

So, back to the discussion about the circular economy.

Can the “internet of things” be part of the circular economy? Can this connectedness push consumers to consider more sustainable behavior, or create products that provide increased value with lower impact, or allow effective recovery of resources at end of life?

First reaction is, again,  … it depends!  If this pushes consumers to by more “impactful” products because they are or can be connected but don’t offer proportionally increased value … then this is not a good sign and Yvon Chouinard will cry foul! If the connectedness can drive a reduction in impact (due to better efficiency, or more effectiveness, consumption only when in use and at reduced rates of consumption, for example) then probably yes. Meaning, if it can affect consumer behavior in a positive direction then this is worth exploring.

This difference between consumer actions and consumer wishes for sustainable consumption is commonly referred to as the “green gap”. We’ll discuss this more in future postings.

So we will need to be careful about tracking the cost-benefit or, at least, providing some feedback to the consumer on the performance of the product or, sadly, this will simply be another round of technology driving increased consumption. And that’s not circular.

We’ll continue with the Circular Economy, Part 2 in the next blog - which will follow sooner than this one did to the last posting (!).

6 comments:

  1. Very important and essential description you have given on your site about internet.These will be very useful for us.God bless you.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Dear Sir:

    I am glad to see your post. The present post is somewhat different than the past ones on Green Manufacturing, but still exclusively connected to sustainability. You have highlighted many technologies and its advantages to overcome industries’ problems and make process / project more efficient. At the same time, these are also really useful for manufacturing engineers to make a product / a process more sustainable.

    Thank you for the post and look forward to see your more posts.

    Sincerely,
    Mahesh Teli

    ReplyDelete
  3. Broaches are SHB Manufacture Spline Hobs to standard as well as to specific requirements of the user for Straight Sided as well as Involute Splines in Class ‘A’ and Class ‘AA’ accuracies with following features:

    ReplyDelete
  4. Broach India - Techcellence is a leading manufacturer and exporter of broach, broaching machines and optimum quality industrial spline gauges in India.

    Broaching








    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you.I think it is very important to sharing this.zarah from bizbilla.com

    ReplyDelete