With IFS about to enter into a new phase of its history we sat down with Andrew Bourne Global Industry Sales Director at IFS World Operations AB. With the celebrations still on hold for the completion of the acquisition, despite being at the champagne bar at St Pancras, it was caffeine that fuelled the conversation rather than alcohol. We discussed three future technology trends in manufacturing.
Bourne has a been with IFS for 18 years and prior to that worked at Ford Motor company, he has specialised in Manufacturing and heads up that industry sector at IFS as well as being responsible for other verticals. It is clear during the conversation that he prefers the Swedish culture of openness to the US culture style that pervaded Ford when he worked there. His role now sees him liaise closely with customers around the future direction of IFS, it is a role that will become more important in the coming months especially if funds are released for further acquisitions of development projects. However following the meeting IGT Holding also announced that it would be investing in the Sales and Marketing channel so perhaps some of his time will also be spent on recruitment.
IFS was founded in 1983 by three ex Oracle employees who developed Asset Management and maintenance software that they initially sold to a Nuclear Power Plant. While they no longer use the tent that was used to help deliver a 24×7 service to the Nuclear Plant during the early days customer service is still important. Bourne was proud to reveal that in their latest customer scorecards IFS received a 94% for “More than satisfied” or better rating. In part this is because of the close relationship between IFS and its clients, Bourne chaire sthe manufacturing advisory council that sits a few times a year and their feedback helps to identify the improvements and new features that IFS will implement.
We asked Bourne to consider what he felt would be three technical trends developing in 2016 that manufacturers would be talking about most. With the focus on technology rather than software Bourne selected 3D printing, IOT and wearables.
Future Technology: 3D Printing
The first technology that was discussed was 3D printing. This is not a new technology but Bourne feels that there is a foreseeable future within manufacturing. He will certainly seek the opinions of his user base to find out how Infor can help its customers take advantage of the technology. Bourne commented “It has always been in prototyping. 3D printing is affecting certain bits of manufacturing. For example it is very much in Aerospace. The Airbus A350 has more than 1000 printed parts, which is small in terms of the number of parts.”
Military aircraft have been printing parts for some time, but it the change in what can be used for “ink” that is making the difference and Bourne continued “…it is becoming more advanced in some of the materials it is printing with and some of the combination of materials it is able to print and that is where it is coming it into play (in manufacturing)”.
3D printing is still along way from becoming high volume, there are not that many Airbus airplanes manufactured and it is unlikely that 3D printing will be using in volume manufacturing. Bourne however sees a future for them in the FMCG at the maintenance end of the business especially though. Look further ahead he said “In a few years time, rather than keeping spare parts in your own warehouse there will some sort of 3D printing shop on an industrial estate. Why hold those parts in my warehouse when within half an hour you can get spare parts printed and delivered, that’s where it will have an impact.”
This is an interesting point, and one that may have one or two entrepreneurs thinking about how to accomplish it. The problem is that in order to print the component parts it is still necessary to have a blueprint for it. Working out how to protect the copyright of those blueprints is still being worked out. However one can see that in certain industries investing in spare parts 3D printers could make a significant cost difference. Technologies such as Metal Additive Manufacturing (AM) and Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) allow metal components to be made already exist and while the cost per unit is still expensive this is going to drop. Colour Printers were expensive when first launched and now they can be purchased quite cheaply by many households.
Future Technology: IOT
While 3D printing may be a new technology but IOT isn’t as Bourne said “IOT, M2M, Industry 4.0 these are all words that almost mean the same. It is not reinventing the wheel but it’s a different flavour.”. Having worked in industry for some time Bourne’s approach is sensible as he is less focused on the technology itself and commented, “I am much more interested in what the benefits are.”
IFS has a customer in Norway that is getting benefits from IoT. It is a Tram company, historically trams come in repair when something goes badly wrong or for scheduled maintenance. A sticky door that still works was ignored. They have placed sensors on all of the doors, identifying when trams have minor faults and they now have the capability to act. Bourne explained “By putting them on the doors they can get real time feedback from the trams. When they implemented it earlier this year, they went from 80% to over 90% availability of trams within 6 months.”
This approach takes a leaf out of mining companies who put a multitude of sensors on their large machinery, connecting them through a mesh network with a control office. In making sure that trams are repaired during down time they have significantly improved their performance and customer satisfaction. What is also interesting is whether the network that supports the sensors also provides WiFi in that city.
Bourne explained the IFS approach to IOT as three simple steps “Collect all the data , analysing it and do something with it. We will not collect the data, but we will analyse it and do something with it.”. This is a brave approach and one that means they have developed their own analytics application within the ERP solution. The benefits are that the integration into the ERP system means that they realise the benefits of predictive analytics for their customers and potentially can get to the elusive prescriptive analytics, though Bourne was unable to present a case for the latter to our satisfaction.
With all the hype around big data and IOT there is no doubt that it will be important for many industry verticals in the years ahead, but Bourne had a neat turn of phrase that many companies would be wise to heed, “People talk about big data, but it’s the small pieces of data that can make a difference to your business.”
He is correct in our opinion; it is not about collecting vast swathes of data but also about the data points that are important within that vast swathe. While there are macro trends that should not be ignored, companies also need to understand their data and the impact that a single piece may have. CEO’s would be wise to remember the old nursery rhyme “For want of a nail…”
Future Technology: Wearables
Bourne summarised one view of wearables neatly in saying:
“The ability to extend information to people on the most appropriate channel to minimise time to act.”
Many people are still sceptical of wearables and their impact but they are slowly gaining acceptance. Bourne sees the advantage that Watches might bring as he explained “For example you could get something on your watch, and be able to react to it a lot quicker than going into the office.
While IFS has apps for the Apple Watch one suspects that they are more excited by other wearables. They are working closely with Sony on their SmartEyeGlass technology and will be launching IFS apps on that wearable. It is with Smart glasses that Bourne sees a wearable that will be disruptive to the industries that IFS work with. Bourne explained further, “Smart Glasses; Typically a lot of people say that they can be used in the warehouse to guide you where things are. Looking at it from a service point of view, you can ask your system to show you augmented reality to show you how to maintain one of your machines in the field. (This enables the ability) to have less qualified people out in the field in control of people in the head office who actually see what they are doing. Then that will minimise time to fix, that is where wearables will have a major impact.”
For companies that are looking to expand internationally it reduces the amount of resources needed to train service engineers. The ability to partner with competent third parties backed by expertise back in their home country could significantly reduce service costs. There is a danger though that skilled engineers are not replaced and there becomes a short supply of engineers not just within the company but also within a country. The longer term impact on skills level of engineers cannot be underestimated.
While each of these three technologies has been around for several years there is a feeling that they are approaching the cusp of adoption within industry at a wider level. 3D printers cost as little as £500 and it will not be long before they are within the reach of households rather than hobbyists. For manufacturing the quality of the high printers available is also improving, wide adoption in 2016 is unlikely but there will be greater use in some industries.
The benefit of IoT are not being fully realised yet. For many companies they are experimenting with the technology but they are afraid by its disruptive nature and how it may even change industries going forward. It will be interesting to see how IFS develops its ERP software to integrate with IoT and what benefits it can bring its customers.
The number and different types of wearables are increasing exponentially, a new smart watch is announced almost monthly and it won’t be long before more and more people start wearing them. The Apple Watch is a functional fashion accessory but as digital watches become closer to smart watches as their functionality improves and the cost of components drop more and more people will be wearing them. This is potentially a huge market and there is always the possibility that it will significantly hurt some of the historic watch brands. There may indeed be a Kodak moment for watches, in the same way that film camera’s disappeared within a few years.