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Date posted: September 30, 2015

As Big Data became increasingly a frontline topic, on its heels came Hadoop— the open source project for managing huge amounts of data.

Hadoop is an open source software framework written in Java for distributed storage and processing of very large data sets on computer clusters built from commodity hardware. All the modules in Hadoop are designed with a fundamental assumption that hardware failures (of individual machines, or racks of machines) are commonplace and thus should be automatically handled in software by the framework.

While the implementation of Hadoop lagged behind its original hype, a recent article on Fortune indicates that its time may be at hand. The driver is the Internet of Things (IoT).

As more companies collect data from devices such as industrial sensors, mobile phones and cars, companies selling Hadoop-based software can try to swoop in and make sales. During the past couple of quarters, revenue at one of those companies, Hortonworks, has been growing rapidly—more than doubling on a year-over-year basis—partly because the Internet of things is driving demand for its software, CEO Rob Bearden told Fortune.

“Absolutely, beyond a question of a doubt, it is a functioning, seriously monetizable, fast-growing market,” Bearden said. “…If (companies) can get visibility in real time, and act and react in real time, it completely changes the dynamic of that transaction.”

Other open source technologies (e.g., Apache Kafka and Apache Spark) have also helped to make Hadoop better suited to the IoT. They have made getting data into Hadoop and then processing it much faster than before.

According to Fortune, “For companies trying to profit from Hadoop, the rush to connect devices and analyze their data could not be better.”

Take note. Here comes Hadoop.

Date posted: September 29, 2015

Over the past year we’ve had the opportunity to write a number of times about additive manufacturing— 3D printing— as it’s captured the imagination of the business press. But until now, the application of the technology has been largely limited to prototyping, reducing the time it takes for designers and engineers to conceptualize, create and test their ideas. According to a recent column in Fortune, the technology is clearly moving into a new phase: expanding from rapid prototyping to the assembly line for end-use production.

According to a recent report from Stratasys Direct Manufacturing (SDM), the service arm of the global 3D-printer manufacturing company Stratasys, for 3D printing to catch on the rapidly changing manufacturing industry, it will have to be seen by companies less as a fascinating technological upgrade and more as an everyday business decision.

“Today 3D printing is still perceived as a technology solution, but the future of 3D printing is as a business solution,” notes Joe Allison, CEO of SDM, in 3D Printing’s Imminent Impact on Manufacturing.

The report pulled together survey responses given by 700 designers, engineers, and business executives, nearly half of whom work for manufacturing companies that pull in more than $50 million in revenue a year. Respondents came from the aerospace, medical, automotive, and energy industries, and all of them work for companies that are already using advanced manufacturing processes or plan to introduce things like 3D printing or direct metal laser sintering within three years.

A key finding: the growth in 3D printing over the next three years will come in “end-use” production.

The next phase of 3D printing development within manufacturing companies will involve bringing 3D printing out of the realm of rapid prototyping and into the assembly line, where additive processes are used to make parts that end up on the final product. This is already happening in some industries, particularly in aerospace and medical equipment. How fast is this moving? One example: within a decade every commercial airplane will have 3D printed parts.

To prepare for this shift in 3D printing, companies are increasing staffing, training new workers, and buying more 3D printing machines. The report shows that 73% of respondents said their companies plan to increase their in-house production of additively manufactured parts.

Printing in metals will be key.

According to Jim Bartel, senior vice president of strategy, marketing, and business development for SDM, customers, especially those in the aerospace and medical fields, are asking for and using aluminum and titanium, lightweight metals with considerable material strength. The report bears this out: At 84%, respondents ranked metals as the leader when it comes to which materials they’d like to see developed further for additive manufacturing in the future. SDM expects additive metal use overall to double in the next three years.

“Once a new technology rolls over you, if you’re not part of the steamroller, you’re part of the road,” observed futurist Stewart Brand. It looks as if manufacturers are not going to get steamrolled by 3D printing, but rather leverage it— sooner rather than later— as they move along the road into the future.

Date posted: September 24, 2015

As ERP systems have evolved, expectations for what they can deliver have risen. This is understandable, both in terms of increased functionality at the core of the enterprise and greater integration across the enterprise. As the primary and most expensive IT investment most companies will make, the assessment process when selecting ERP needs to be thorough, to ensure that the best choice is being made, and through that assurance to help provide the courage and confidence needed to act. Choosing an ERP system can be a daunting task.

A recent article on Manufacturing Business Technology proposes a dozen steps companies should considering taking during the process of selecting an ERP solution. They seem good ones to us:

 

  1. Define your initial requirements along with the triggers that will require you to consider additional capabilities. Begin by asking each functional leader what they need to be able to do today. Then consider the company strategy and phase in additional needs based on specific triggers like sales growth (when we hit 500 customers, we will need a hosted CRM solution), locations (when we move into Asia, we will need advanced planning and compliance management), and headcount (when we hit 3,000 employees we will need a complete HCM solution). This approach will give your team an outlet for exploring additional capabilities without exploding your list of initial requirements.
  2. Use vendor demonstrations as a means of exploration while nailing down current requirements. Carefully define the scope of your ERP project based on the current needs of the company. This will allow vendors to be more detailed in their proposals. However, vendors should also be allowed time to showcase the completeness of their strategy, portfolio of solutions and associated roadmaps.
  3. Align teams early on— and augment when necessary. Make sure a clear and concise charter for the project is documented and supported by the full internal team, including C-level officers. Align with corporate decision-makers early and involve a cross –section of teams in the evaluation committee
  4. Get specialized treatment. Select an ERP solution that fits the specific needs of your vertical industry. Choosing a solution that already contains functionality to address industry-specific requirements, terminology, and regulations will help reduce the need for costly modifications.
  5. Be open to change. Avoid customizations at all costs. They cause your ERP to be difficult to upgrade and support. Consider instead that you can adopt standard processes and change your internal business practices.
  6. Focus on user experience. When choosing an ERP, be sure to consider the ease of use and the overall user experience in your selection criteria.
  7. Leverage on-demand training methods. As you make your ERP selection and plan the implementation phase, allow for adequate training of personnel, but also explore the vendor’s on-demand training and support capabilities.
  8. Set realistic expectations. Do not try to rush through or skip necessary steps of a phased implementation. This can happen when people who were not involved in the selection process own the implementation.
  9. Communicate, collaborate and document. Be sure to keep track of decisions concerning your project’s scope, your expectations, and concrete deliverables. Collaborate with your ERP vendor on successful implementation strategies, taking advantage of lessons learned from previous successful implementations.
  10. Consider Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) and growth. Make sure your vendor has the team in place that can help you examine the total cost of ownership of proposed solutions. ERP selection should involve executive level conversations weighing such factors as infrastructural investments, current support costs, business agility and growth.
  11. Move beyond functionality. Capabilities like mobility and cloud promise many new ways for employees to engage with business applications and each other according to their own schedules. This brings in to play additional evaluation topics (e.g., data security, network requirements and upgrade policies).
  12. Look to be flexible. Newer solutions are supported by flexible, user defined workflows, screen configurations, analytics and reporting tools that require no involvement from IT resources. Whether developing a product for a highly demanding market, adding high-value services or specializing in made-to-order quality products, a flexible ERP solution allows organizations to focus on the details that matter most to customers.

 

      While this list may not be exhaustive, it certainly is a very good starting point.

Date posted: September 21, 2015

In a recent column on CIO, Mike Lamble, CEO of Clarity Solution Group, addresses the movement of enterprise analytics to the cloud. As Lamble notes, it’s not a question of if analytics will move to the cloud, but rather when:

In terms of the Innovation Curve, we’ve moved from “early adopters” to the “early majority.” According to a recent Gartner survey, this year saw a 50 percent jump in the portion of respondents who said they plan to run mission critical applications on the cloud, from about 30 percent in each of the previous four years to 45 percent this year. Many companies – even Fortune 1000 – are mandating that all new infrastructure will be in the cloud.

When technology adoption moves from if to when, the next thing to look for is how. Lamble proposes five project profiles where companies with on-premise enterprise data warehouses (EDW) can look to begin leveraging the advantages of the cloud. They’re worth considering here:

  • One time big data projects
    Gigabytes to petabytes can be provisioned quickly and brought down when the project is complete whether it’s weeks, months, or indefinitely until the job is done.
  • Anything where you might be considering a massively parallel processing appliance
    Projects that require terabytes and up— and target tens to hundreds of users rather than thousands— could be a great place to start. Sophisticated appliance IT managers will be delighted by the cloud’s flexibility. You won’t need to pre-pay for capacity, and adding resources is done on a configuration screen as opposed to buying a new rack.
  • Machine learning projects
    Hadoop’s architecture suits this class of solution, and leading cloud service providers (CSP) offer robust Hadoop distributions and machine learning analytic software.
  • Departmental dashboard projects
    These are ideal for getting acquainted with a CSP’s solution stack and development nuances. In fact, many of these are already up and running.
  • IoT Data Lakes
    These include both structured and semi-structured data, with volumes that can be enormous. Data lake projects are often constrained by Hadoop clusters being out of the box for on premise data centers. This isn’t an obstacle for CSPs, whose offerings decouple storage and compute resources in order to economize on storage of less often used data.

Date posted: September 14, 2015

One of the major developments I’ve observed over years of writing about enterprise applications is how those applications have become connected. A recent article on R&D by editor Lindsay Hock underscores the importance of this. In the piece, Rich Carpenter, Chief Technology Strategist at GE Intelligent Platforms Software speaks to the development of intelligent manufacturing and the move to the Industrial Internet, and one of the most interesting points he makes is about the importance of what he calls “the digital thread.”

Many companies have fully realized the benefits of Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and other initiatives driven to improve manufacturing productivity. These initiatives are focused on driving efficiency in manufacturing to deliver production goals at lower costs with higher quality. “It’s the digital thread that takes these principles to the next level,” says Carpenter.

The digital thread helps to lean out the new product introduction cycle from initial product concept and design, through manufacturing, the supply chain and, ultimately, through operations, maintenance and service. However, to leverage the digital thread’s full potential requires connecting previously islanded systems such as PLM, ERP, EAM, MES, M&D and supply chain systems.

The benefits of this digital thread are profound, including:

  • Faster product cycles
  • Higher quality products
  • Lower manufacturing costs
  • Faster response to real-time changing market dynamics

The digital thread can enhance manufacturing in many ways. “For example, a great new product may be sent to manufacturing where it is determined the product can’t actually be built in volume,” says Carpenter. “This may be because parts with the right specifications can’t be acquired cost effectively, or state-of-the-art equipment can’t make the parts.” Traditionally, this is a very long process of discovery, re-work, escaped product defects and re-designs.

“When the digital thread is connected, the design from the PLM system can lead directly to a manufacturing plan,” says Carpenter. And that plan can automatically produce the manufacturing execution system configuration and bill of materials. “Quality can be collected in the context of the design,” explains Carpenter. And, if during manufacturing, non-conformances are identified, they can immediately be sent back to engineering for resolution. This closed loop, continuous feedback loop helps to ensure quality products are built and the risk of recall is minimized.

Such connectivity is unleashing the power of enterprise applications in a way heretofore unrealized, and is leading to what Carpenter calls “a massive change in process with the Industrial Internet.” While this is at an early stage, its momentum is clear and worldwide. (Germany’s Industrie 4.0 can be seen as a parallel approach to this connected technology.)

Carpenter nicely summarizes the scale of the industrial change being driven by connectivity:

“We are collecting and organizing the world’s industrial knowledge in a way that makes it accessible to the broad community of businesses, thus creating a form of industrial ambient intelligence that is always available.”

This isn’t your grandfather’s or your father’s industrial world. It should be riveting to watch its further development.