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Having 20-20 Vision in the New Year

Nov. 6, 2019
You’re going to be hearing the phrase “20-20 vision” a lot in the coming weeks.

You’re going to be hearing the phrase “20-20 vision” a lot in the coming weeks. Editors and pundits love a good tagline to hang their stories on, and with this particular new year on the horizon, it will be irresistible for us to equate the start of the year 2020 with the optometrist’s declaration of perfect eyesight.

Not everyone has 20-20 vision. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve needed glasses for reading, and since reading is a large part of what I do, I’ve accepted this additional help to keep my work in focus. Without my glasses, things are a little fuzzy up close; looking further ahead, the world starts to get clearer.

For manufacturers, the same should be true. The daily demands of production schedules and the evolving manufacturing landscape makes attention to today’s issues far more crucial than anything that might be waiting down the line. Your short-term vision needs to be sharp.

Yet at this critical juncture in manufacturing it’s time to make some choices and changes in the way we design and operate our plants. We have to gaze into that future with a clear focus on what’s coming next.

That was a primary message from the IOT Solutions World Congress in Barcelona at the end of October. Dr. Richard Soley, chairman and CEO of the Industrial Internet Consortium made it clear in his keynote address that the time for contemplation over the Internet of Things is over.

“We’ve been talking about IoT for five years now,” Soley told the conference attendees. “Now we’re talking about real applications. This is not a technology show; we’re talking about real success stories.”

The issue, Soley admits, is that while there are overwhelming business cases for the value of IoT in manufacturing and other industries, the use cases are fewer than one might have expected at this stage. What IoT delivers is data-driven, real-time monitoring of the health and productivity of plant equipment—something plant managers crave.

The barriers are daunting: everything from fewer skilled workers to manage the new technology to a turbulent manufacturing economy that has seen growth stagnate through the final six months of the year. If this were an eye doctor’s evaluation, the patient would contend things are a little fuzzy.

This is where having great vision in both the near range and at a distance is valuable. While those day-to-day issues garner a lot of attention, the ability to plan for the future is paramount. The digital factory will be the norm within five years, and those who can see the future while staying focused on the present will be the ones to lead the digital manufacturing revolution. The market already is demanding faster, more-flexible manufacturing. The idea of Lot Size One has migrated from luxury items to everyday merchandise. This consumer-driven expectation challenges our industry to change, and to be ready for even more change.

The arrival of the year 2020 is more than just a catchy number for us to play with. It’s a call for us to look toward the new year with a sharper focus on the things we need to do to improve operational excellence. Remember: 20-20 vision is the ability to see everything clearly.

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