Factory Operating Systems: Software That Supports Making Hardware

March 15, 2024
A startup focuses on getting information from design and engineering down to the shop floor and back again to enrich decision-making and improve the product. Takeaway: insights on improving factory operations.

The purpose of integrated manufacturing, regardless of the sector, remains constant: Its functional goal is to improve manufacturing and production. 

It’s a topic Karan Talati, CEO and co-founder of First Resonance, the company behind a software platform (ION OS) that’s designed to support rapid engineering and manufacturing iteration, has mulled over philosophically. He told Machine Design that he has thought deeply about how the tactics of modern APIs and connectivity are employed in improving factory operating systems.

For Talati, any system that is fit for the factory of the future would need to be flexible and scalable. These are necessary requirements in an era where efficiency and cost control are “a lot more important than it was in the 20th Century’s economies of scale manufacturing programs,” he said.

A Software Platform Designed for Manufacturing Processes

Founded in 2020, the Los Angeles-based manufacturing technology startup rose through a time when solving the problems of climate, tech and energy were soaring, and when new applications in aerospace that are significantly cheaper and available were sought after.

First Resonance developed the ION platform, which conducts day-to-day operations and connects workflows that power modern operations, from production to supply chain procurement and quality. “Industries that make products with multiple levels of the BOM (Bills of Materials), multiple manufacturing processes that go into an integrated piece of hardware, like an airplane, car or nuclear reactor.

READ MORE: Manufacturing Software Solutions: Insights on Where the Puck is Going in 2024

That Talati would target discrete manufacturing—including aviation, aerospace, defense, energy, robotics and automotive—should come as no surprise. Talati’s familiarity with the aerospace industry stems from six years of working at SpaceX. There, he worked with teams who “built some of the first applications in automation, connecting machines and connecting the engineering side of rocket development to the production side in real time.

The training at an aerospace facility grounded his perspective on developing the data capture, real-time analytics platform. “We really thought about things from a first principles perspective,” recalled Talati. “What are the problems that we have to solve? And at that time, what we put a lot of value on was, how do we improve and increase the velocity of our engineering to manufacturing iterations?

Collect Data Across the Product Lifecycle

In the accompanying video, Talati defines the problem his company set out to solve. 

“While the promise is great of an increasing number of devices and sensors and having Wi-Fi connectivity, getting that data back into the business systems or the operational systems is an unsolved problem,” he told Machine Design.

READ MORE: Manage, Monitor and Synchronize the Entire Hardware Build

That’s because typical business and operational systems were never built to receive in data from a highly distributed array of sensors and equipment. “So, when it comes to integrated manufacturing and Industry 4.0, the promise has been really high, but actually stitching this data back into that business systems layer or the operational layer has been unmet,” he said.

To answer this need, ION’s developers have taken an API-first approach. “What that means is that every single transaction in the platform, what’s available through the UI or what’s available through various app ecosystem partners, are all available through the API,” explained Talati.

API stands for Application Programming Interface, which means the software interface provides a way for two computer programs to communicate; it takes requests from one system, tells another what to do and then brings information back.

In other words, First Resonance has developed a way to stitch disparate layers of data back to the traditional manufacturing process, or the “left-to-right motion building a product.” 

Making Inroads

Talati noted that future prospects for his company in the current environment have been on a steady path and trends in 2023 have given the company a measure of confidence. “We have early proof of concepts on using machine learning, for example, to automate decision making,” he said.

READ MORE: Protolabs Network’s Advanced Software Integration Offers Streamlined Collaboration

He cautioned that manufacturing, unlike other industries, cannot be automated end-to-end, and First Resonance applies narrow ML applications, focusing on increasing the accuracy of a process by a significant amount and on being a complement to human decision making. The company also veers toward new digitally connected manufacturing methodologies, including additive manufacturing and composite manufacturing, and even modern forging processes, Talati said.  

In September 2023, Emerson reported that Emerson Ventures, its corporate venture capital arm, had invested in First Resonance. The amount of funding provided by Emerson Ventures was not disclosed. 

View Part One in the two-part video interview with Karan Talati, CEO and co-founder of First Resonance.

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