Algorithms and integrated networks (Industry 4.0) will change the landscape of equipment in the years to come. The power of well-constructed, self-healing, and adaptive networks is difficult to comprehend at this stage of their development, or maybe they are not.
For example, imagine a machining center that monitors each component of its function in real time, all the time, deciding its spindle needs replacement. The machining center automatically adjusts its speeds and feeds for each tool to ensure the quality of the parts it machines are not compromised. It also orders the new spindle or spindle bearings. The delivery of the spindle determines when the machine will need to schedule its downtime for replacement. The downtime is going to disrupt production, so it automatically adjusts raw material needs and its production times to ensure the downtime does not affect overall production. If it is unable to build the necessary bank of parts to ensure production is not interrupted, it will determine where available capacity can produce the needed parts. It will transfer all programs and offsets to the interim machining center. The interim machining center will identify the necessary tools required to produce the parts and order them as necessary with the offsets required based on the machine’s axis alignment. The tombstones required to hold the raw material will be transferred to the interim machining center at the appropriate time. Internal or external maintenance will be scheduled based on the expected arrival of the spindle. Maintenance will be notified of all tools necessary to perform the changeout and will be provided the necessary instructions. The maintenance person performing the changeout does not need to be trained in the repair of this type of machining center because the spindle swap will be conducted virtually. The machine will have scheduled a time for a qualified service technician to perform a virtual repair. The onsite maintenance technician will wear a video camera and strategically place other video cameras. The virtual trained service tech will guide the onsite service tech through the procedure. After the replacement, the machine will run through a series of protocols confirming proper installation and adjusting offsets necessary for the new spindle. When the machine is back online and ready, it will schedule the transfer of the required components including the tombstone and raw material so that it can once again begin producing parts.
Sound farfetched? So did things like going to the moon and driverless cars. Integrated networks with adaptive algorithms will produce true lights-out manufacturing. Humans are far more likely to make mistakes than an algorithm. For now, humans have control over the production of the algorithms, but eventually, the algorithms will have adaptive qualities that are beyond our comprehension. Global competition will demand it for maintaining profitability. The big question is, can society handle it? I certainly don’t have an answer to this question but do know that humans are amazingly adaptive creatures even when compared to adaptive algorithms. We will need to become incredibly accepting of the changes that will continue to alter the world as we currently comprehend it. I use the word “accepting” intentionally because to think we have a choice in the matter is naïve. Accepting does not mean we have to agree with the change or like the change. Change is the reality and those that resist it will suffer. Future generations will have multiple careers as jobs come and go. The best skill to develop in the years to come will be the skill to learn. Learning is a skill that can be improved but like anything worth doing, takes effort. The mind is the most difficult muscle to strengthen. The mind is impossible to strengthen without the realization that we control it. Based on the irrational mood of the world, it is likely the realization that we can choose to direct our mind will likely remain unrealized. For me, that is okay because the Stoics taught me that I only control two things: my thoughts and my actions. Freedom allows me the opportunity to choose. In the long run, my actions can be constrained but my ability to manage my thoughts will always remain sovereign, and I wish the same for you.