Closing in on Industry 4.0
Elevating the Internet of Things
Three Cloud-based platforms keep 300,000 elevators across the globe in line. The incorporation of augmented reality places virtual over actual reality, streamlining workflow. With the Silicon Valley innovation engine powering the way, American Industry 4.0 is quietly accelerating into the passing lane.
Elevating the Internet of ThingsBy Shu-ren Koo
From CommonWealth Magazine (vol. 624 )
How did an industry software company transform itself into an Internet of Things (IoT) solutions provider?
PTC is not a familiar name to consumers, yet it is America’s largest industry software supplier, having established its position as an authority in computer-aided design (CAD) and product lifecycle management (PLM) software. Many big-name manufacturers, including Taiwan’s Honhai Precision, count among PTC’s clients.
PTC showcased its wares at the Liveworx 2017 global technology conference this May in Boston, demonstrating how, over the course of seven years and one billion US dollars in a series of acquisitions, PTC has successfully transformed itself from an industry software company into an Internet of Things company.
PTC Industry Software:
Turbocharged by AR, Dominating IoT
Overlaying the new weapon of augmented reality on top of its established core business, PTC looks to help manufacturers map out their transition to Industry 4.0. From product design, plant operation, to sales and maintenance services, each component has a corresponding digital avatar as the real and virtual are integrated.
“AR brought the digital world into the physical world. It will transform the way people interact with the world,” says James Heppelmann, CEO of PTC.
At the show, a bare frame automobile prototype is scanned with a tablet computer, and mock ups of various exterior styles and components appear on the screen. The application of this technology will make physical prototypes a thing of the past.
An executive from German drive and control giant Bosch Rexroth asserts that this technology has raised the company’s product design efficiency by 30 percent.
Across the exhibition hall, an engineer views a 3D printer through a pair of HoloLens AR goggles from Microsoft. A display tells him what parts are out of order, then walks him step by step through repairs and part replacements.
“We cannot see most of the data machines produce today,” says Craig Hayman, PTC Chief Operating Officer, “AR is the dashboard of the factory floor.”
Otis: Cloud-based Monitoring
Keeps 300,000 Elevators Worldwide Running Smoothly
When you ride an elevator, do you ever notice what brand it is? If not, next time take a look; odds are that it was made by Otis.
Headquartered near the state capital of Hartford, Connecticut, the Otis Elevator Company is the largest in the world. Over two million Otis elevators run up and down buildings all over the globe, including Dubai’s Burj Khalifa, transporting people on two billion individual trips each day. Among other distinctions, Otis can enjoy the claim to fame of being used in 11 of the world’s 20 tallest buildings.
Company founder and inventor Elisha Otis invented the first automatic braking safety elevator in 1852, making humanity’s dream of building high rises possible and changing the world forever.
Now, as the Industry 4.0 tide sweeps the world some 165 years later, Otis is once again shaking up the business model, maintenance approach, and client relations of the global elevator service industry.
Christopher Smith, vice president of service innovation at Otis, stresses that allowing employees to pursue their passions not only helps raise loyalty, but can help make them more proactive, enhancing company productivity (pictured in the background is a replica of the world’s first elevator, invented by Otis 165 years ago).
The company Otis founded recently entered a partnership with AT&T and Microsoft to outfit 300,000 elevators with sensors. They in turn transmit operational data over the Internet to three Cloud-based platforms in Europe, North America, and East Asia, where control centers can monitor the elevators’ operational status.
In an interview with CommonWealth, Christopher Smith, vice president of service innovation for Otis, related that it was formerly up to the building superintendent to discover issues with elevator operation and call the service center. A maintenance engineer would subsequently be dispatched, and only after some time spent inspecting the elevator would the problem be identified.
However, using today’s Big Data analysis, whenever the computer discovers an anomaly in an elevator’s data, a local maintenance technician is automatically dispatched to make an inspection.
This saves significant downtime and lowers the chances of patrons getting stuck in a malfunctioning elevator. In practical terms, an iPhone is all it takes to repair an elevator.
In addition to real-time remote monitoring, Otis has also developed a unique mobile app. The maintenance technician just goes to the job site, opens the app, and he can view a full diagnostic readout instructing him exactly what kind of repairs to carry out.
In the past, maintenance technicians had to come to work sites armed with all kinds of tools, large and small. These days, on the other hand, a smartphone does the trick. “It is like a Swiss Army knife. It has everything,” says Smith.
Otis can credit its people for maintaining its unshakable status for over a century. To wit, the United Technologies Corporation (UTC), of which Otis is a member, invests in its workers like no other corporation.
For workers interested in studying for an advanced degree, Otis offers nearly full tuition support, with no strings attached and no obligation to choose a major related to one’s professional field. While studying for a degree, employees can take study and examination leaves. In 20 years of implementation, UTC has invested US$1.2 billion to help employees pursue further studies. As Otis Taiwan general manager Liu Hsin-hsiang explains, the company prefers not to restrict employees’ choices because it wants to encourage them to develop solid all-around professional skills, which in turn benefits the organization.
Shouldn’t the company be afraid of employees bolting out the door, free degree in hand, into the arms of competitors? On the contrary, as Gail Jackson, vice president of human resources at UTC recently told the U.S. media, “It is better to train and have them leave than not to train and have them stay.”
Translated from the Chinese by David Toman