Time to invest in endless possibilities

As manufacturers, our place in the market is only secure if we continue to expand and grow our product lines, our production volume, and our quality. The Internet of Things makes all of this possible—but only if we invest in the technology.


Bob Vavra, content manager, Plant EngineeringWhat I like about March is that it’s filled with possibilities. Baseball is back, and so are the cherry blossoms in Washington, D.C. Even in Boston, where they’ve gotten more than their fair share of snow this winter, the promise of a thaw and the return of warmth are on the horizon.

The thing about possibilities is that they never can be more than just a possibility unless you act on them. The spare parts in your warehouse have no value until they are plugged into a machine. The inventory you manufacture just collects dust until it is sold. So it is with possibilities; they are made real only when someone sees what is possible and takes action.

The possibilities for manufacturing this year are great, and they are expansive. The new age of manufacturing holds great promise for efficiency, productivity, and safety. We can connect our machines through the Internet of Things; even more, we can deliver actionable data that will improve our operation.

Internet of Things, or Industry 4.0 for our European friends, is an extension of the connected world we live in today. Any piece of knowledge is a click away, and any device can deliver that knowledge to us, wherever in the world we are. The world is out there, but we can bring it into the palm of our hand.

Even more, the technology allows us the ability to simplify that data. We don’t need to know everything at every moment, and the technology has evolved to give us what we need when we need it, and what we ask for in limited quantities. We can control not just the data, but how it is consumed.

In the process, we have created tidal waves of change, as well as confusion and uncertainty. The old rules and the old ways are not gone; the fundamentals remain. The speed with which those fundamentals are seen and acted upon is what is new. The pace of change and the pace of information have accelerated. We must move faster and think faster while maintaining our commitments to excellence in process and product. Speed is our ally, but it also can be our enemy.

Yet with all the possibilities that the technology has to offer us, we must change, and that pace of change now must accelerate if we are to deliver on the promise of this revolution in manufacturing. That will require two things: capital investment and human investment. I’ve written extensively over the last decade about the need to find, train, and retain a new generation of workers, and that subject will continue to be at the cornerstone of the manufacturing discourse. For now, let’s talk about the other component—capital investment.

After four years of solid growth, manufacturing holds a justifiable place at the pinnacle of the world’s economy. Now is the time to reinvest in manufacturing. We have put off for too long the needed upgrades to our capital equipment, our systems, and our plant infrastructure. We need to create new lines to take advantage of the growth that is here, and the growth that is coming. From oil to automobiles, from pharmaceuticals to the very personal computing devices that make the Internet of Things work, we see a world of possibilities.

As manufacturers, our place in the market is only secure if we continue to expand and grow our product lines, our production volume, and our quality. The Internet of Things makes all of this possible—but only if we invest in the technology.

The interconnection of pumps and valves and motors and drives into a seamless system is possible. They will not, however, connect on their own. We must first understand what this connected plant can deliver to us, and then put those systems in place and put them to use. And we need to do it now.

Technology can be deployed anywhere, so why do it here? The last decade conclusively answered that question. American manufacturing is justifiably envied for its commitment to quality, safety, and productivity, and it is those qualities that helped create growth and stability for our economy. This was accomplished, however, without strong capital investment. We made it work with what we had.

But just as cherry blossoms need fertilizer each spring and baseball teams need to retool their organizations to bring in new players to remain competitive, manufacturing needs to invest in its plants and in new technology—and the training to take full advantage of the technology—in order to continue the growth we’ve worked so hard to earn.

Without more capital investment, growth may stall. With capital investment? The possibilities are endless.

The Top Plant program honors outstanding manufacturing facilities in North America. View the 2015 Top Plant.
The Product of the Year program recognizes products newly released in the manufacturing industries.
Each year, a panel of Control Engineering and Plant Engineering editors and industry expert judges select the System Integrator of the Year Award winners in three categories.
Pipe fabrication and IIoT; 2017 Product of the Year finalists
The future of electrical safety; Four keys to RPM success; Picking the right weld fume option
A new approach to the Skills Gap; Community colleges may hold the key for manufacturing; 2017 Engineering Leaders Under 40
Control room technology innovation; Practical approaches to corrosion protection; Pipeline regulator revises quality programs
The cloud, mobility, and remote operations; SCADA and contextual mobility; Custom UPS empowering a secure pipeline
Infrastructure for natural gas expansion; Artificial lift methods; Disruptive technology and fugitive gas emissions
Power system design for high-performance buildings; mitigating arc flash hazards
VFDs improving motion control applications; Powering automation and IIoT wirelessly; Connecting the dots
Natural gas engines; New applications for fuel cells; Large engines become more efficient; Extending boiler life

Annual Salary Survey

Before the calendar turned, 2016 already had the makings of a pivotal year for manufacturing, and for the world.

There were the big events for the year, including the United States as Partner Country at Hannover Messe in April and the 2016 International Manufacturing Technology Show in Chicago in September. There's also the matter of the U.S. presidential elections in November, which promise to shape policy in manufacturing for years to come.

But the year started with global economic turmoil, as a slowdown in Chinese manufacturing triggered a worldwide stock hiccup that sent values plummeting. The continued plunge in world oil prices has resulted in a slowdown in exploration and, by extension, the manufacture of exploration equipment.

Read more: 2015 Salary Survey

Maintenance and reliability tips and best practices from the maintenance and reliability coaches at Allied Reliability Group.
The One Voice for Manufacturing blog reports on federal public policy issues impacting the manufacturing sector. One Voice is a joint effort by the National Tooling and Machining...
The Society for Maintenance and Reliability Professionals an organization devoted...
Join this ongoing discussion of machine guarding topics, including solutions assessments, regulatory compliance, gap analysis...
IMS Research, recently acquired by IHS Inc., is a leading independent supplier of market research and consultancy to the global electronics industry.
Maintenance is not optional in manufacturing. It’s a profit center, driving productivity and uptime while reducing overall repair costs.
The Lachance on CMMS blog is about current maintenance topics. Blogger Paul Lachance is president and chief technology officer for Smartware Group.
The maintenance journey has been a long, slow trek for most manufacturers and has gone from preventive maintenance to predictive maintenance.
This digital report explains how plant engineers and subject matter experts (SME) need support for time series data and its many challenges.
This digital report will explore several aspects of how IIoT will transform manufacturing in the coming years.
Maintenance Manager; California Oils Corp.
Associate, Electrical Engineering; Wood Harbinger
Control Systems Engineer; Robert Bosch Corp.
This course focuses on climate analysis, appropriateness of cooling system selection, and combining cooling systems.
This course will help identify and reveal electrical hazards and identify the solutions to implementing and maintaining a safe work environment.
This course explains how maintaining power and communication systems through emergency power-generation systems is critical.
click me