As our world becomes increasingly more connected, we will find we need to shift our perspective on the products we manufacture and buy. Not only are we connecting with more things, but more things will be initiating connections with us—and with each other—as part of the Internet of Things (IoT).
McKinsey & Company recently offered an interesting prediction of how the Internet of Things may impact manufactured products and processes. Robert Bosch GmbH deputy chairman Siegfried Dais suggested that “a piece of metal or raw material will say, ‘I am the block that will be made into product X for customer Y’” and that “this unfinished material “carries with it all the information about where and when it will be processed….The material itself records any deviations from the standard process, determines when it’s ‘done” and knows how to get to its customer.”
In this kind of scenario, the material becomes more than just a key part of the process; the process is indistinguishable from the information-laden material itself. Consider how smart materials may change not just the manufacturing process but also everything associated with the product after it leaves the assembly line—from warehousing and distribution to upgrades and warranty claims. Here’s an example of what may be possible:
- Before a material even takes its final shape, it will know and display the truck, train or ship that should transport it.
- On the truck, the product furnishes a GPS navigation map for the palette on which it rests to direct the driver to the specific dock where it and its “companions” should be unloaded.
- Upon reaching the warehouse, the information in the product material directs robotic handling equipment to the bin where it should be stored. The location already has been determined and programmed early in the assembly process.
- At the consumer’s home, the product is constantly monitoring the activity of the R&D team who created it and knows immediately when an upgrade is available, downloading the new software remotely on its own, once approved.
- Products will use wear conditions and internal analysis of components to predict when they will break down—and file a warranty claim on behalf of their owner. If a software fix will take care of the repair, the product will download the fix seamlessly.
The IoT might justifiably recast the Internet of Things as the Internet of Thinking, as products and the materials from which they are made manage their entire lifecycle on their own, based on their intelligent evaluation of their changing environment. This new capability will offer new opportunity as we reshape and reevaluate the way we think about the supply chain.