Last week I blogged about the McKinsey Disruptive Dozen and how these 12 advances in technology will change the face of our world. In a completely unrelated incident yesterday, Chuck (TxMQ President) sent me an article on “The Internet of Things” – one of the dozen – that really breaks down what this particular phrase is referring to. Because I don’t believe in coincidence I knew that I had to pay special attention to what the universe was telling me about “The Internet of Things.”

It’s probably one of the most misunderstood of the 12. It’s vague, it sounds unexciting, and is frankly a bit confusing. Now I know why! “The Internet of Things” is not an idea that’s easily communicated. As a matter of fact, I had to read and re-read the article a bunch of times to even begin to wrap my head around what McKinsey researchers were trying to convey. However, this idea is so important that industry leaders are calling it the ‘fourth industrial revolution – following the steam engine, the conveyor belt and the first phase of IT automation technology.”

I’ll try to simplify as best as I can: Through integration of advanced software programs with manufacturing lines and even raw material itself, we will be able to establish a ‘plug and play’ industrial culture. We’re essentially talking about extreme automation of production and supply chain and taking the idea of lean manufacturing and putting it on steroids.

From what I understand the integration between these advanced IT systems and production will be so complete; so embedded, that the two will no longer have the ability to separate. Additionally, it will give each product a destiny; a pre-determined vocation. A piece of aluminum bar stock won’t just sit on a warehouse shelf. From the moment it’s cut, it will be coded with its story; where it’s going, when it will get there, what component it will be machined into, where it’s going again, what piece of equipment this now machined component will fit into, and what finished product it will become a part of.

If there is a place for everything and everything is in it’s place, we will be operating as lean as one item for one item; one need for one need in a global supply chain. It gives new meaning to just-in-time manufacturing. It will revolutionize quality control. It will make logistics a dream.

This is what McKinsey calls a cyber-physical system – a “type of information system that [through the use of] sensors and actuators embedded in physical objects [is] linked through wired and wireless networks via the Internet protocol”. THIS is the Internet of Things and how it’s going to change the face of manufacturing.

Another very important change will come about as well – the separation of design and manufacturing. If we are creating plug and play, wirelessly communicating manufacturing systems that merely need to be programmed to manufacture a specific product, then it’s reasonable to believe that design will and can be completely separated from production. The industry may end up being split in three; design houses, manufacturers and contract manufacturers.

So beyond the mind-numbing theory are some incredibly pertinent questions that, I feel, need to be asked.

One was brought up in this article – how will the symbiosis of design and manufacturing change? Who will own the rights to products? Will the U.S./World be able to handle such a drastic change in industrial culture?

How will new jobs be created? We’re talking about almost completely automating production, supply chain and logistics. It’s reasonable to believe that there won’t even been the need for machine operators or button pushers if everything can be done and supervised remotely. Will this revolution create new and different jobs, or merely eliminate jobs?

With that having been said, how will we create ‘blue collar’ jobs in other sectors that will allow consumers to earn a living and continue consuming?

While this theory is probably one of the most fascinating I’ve read about in my field. It leaves me wondering if we’re reaching toward a technology that we cannot harness. I know I’m getting a little iRobot on you now – I’ll quit while I’m ahead and leave you to your own super robotic conspiracy theories!

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