Demystifying Software-Defined Manufacturing
By: Amar Hanspal, CEO, Bright Machines
January 3, 2019
If you’re like me, you probably get fatigued by tech company jargon. There are times, however, when acronyms are useful in communicating a company’s intent to reinvent a process or concept, not just as it relates to the company but for the benefit of the industry at-large. Examples such as CRM, ERP and BIM come to mind.
In the time since we unveiled Bright Machines and the concept of Software-Defined Manufacturing (or what we call SDM) – to the world, people have been asking us what it really means. In this blog post, I’ll attempt to shed some more light on the concept and why it’s so important.
Analogies can help
Increasingly, we live in a world where software that drives hardware is defining our experience with products. Some of the best-known examples of this in the consumer market are Amazon Alexa devices and Nest thermostats. IT infrastructure, networking equipment (Cisco, Juniper, etc.), security appliances (Palo Alto Networks, Barracuda, etc.) are other examples of such experiences. In fact, the more familiar term “software-defined networking” emerged from the concept of networks that were configured using software instead of hardwired connections.
Perhaps the best analog to Software-Defined Manufacturing is software-defined automobiles. Electric vehicles like Tesla, Leaf and others provide a bunch of individual hardware systems – batteries, drivetrain, sensors, etc. – that are all managed through software.
Not only does the software read and manage each individual system, but it is now enabling complete autonomy in the driving experience.
In a similar vein, Software-Defined Manufacturing imagines a layer of software that runs and oversees all manufacturing processes – from building, to assembly, to testing. The simplest example of this (similar to an Alexa device) would be software managing a single robot where the “skills” are present in the software.
Software-Defined Manufacturing is a direct contrast to the status quo manufacturing has endured for the past 30 years: hardware-defined manufacturing. When people talk about automation in the manufacturing context, they are broadly speaking about this. With hardware-defined manufacturing, individual pieces of equipment are designed or selected, tuned, deployed and managed to do a particular, repetitive task. There is low flexibility and no ability to use data to improve operations. The hardware itself is highly complex which inhibits productivity and requires tedious human involvement at almost every step of the manufacturing process. All of this adds up to the dim reality of manufacturing today: high labor turnover, lack of speed to market and production lines sitting idle.
Software-Defined Manufacturing flips the status quo on its head by centering logic and intelligence in the software instead of the hardware.
The Formula for Digital Reinvention: Intelligent Software + Simple Machines
When intelligence is transferred from hardware to software, things change – for the better.
Once software is overseeing automation hardware and is learning from every moment on a factory floor, the software is continuously getting smarter. This intelligence allows software to become more powerful, and hardware to be simplified – yet capable of being repurposed. Production equipment becomes capable of flexibility and repeatability, not just for one product lifecycle but for years of evolving product strategy and innovation. Applications can be built on a software stack for things like managing quality, traceability, and configuration.
Software-Defined Manufacturing breaks down the barrier between the digital side of the house (engineering) and the traditionally analog side of the house (manufacturing).
It enables simplified yet flexible machines that receive commands from software to produce incredible products for the world’s biggest companies. And when software becomes smarter, and hardware becomes simpler, the entire manufacturing process works better – from major productivity gains, to reduction in downtime and defect rates of assembled parts, to faster time to market.
Software-Defined Manufacturing isn’t just another tech buzzword, but an important concept that represents a fundamental change in how the manufacturing industry views automation’s potential – and Bright Machines is driving this important mindset shift.
You’ll hear more about how Bright Machines will deliver intelligent Software-Defined Manufacturing to change the next generation of products soon. Until then, join us in the conversation on Twitter and LinkedIn, and share your comments below. To propel us to this bright future, we’re looking for a few companies to join us in directed engineering engagement. If this sounds like you, contact us at [email protected].