From 3D printing to the IIoT, it’s not about who you know...

Thomas Wilk explores how technologies are taking the work out of being found and revealing new process efficiencies along the way.

By Thomas Wilk, chief editor

A friend of mine is fond of a particular catchphrase, but one that he turned on its head with the rise of the Internet. We were both English teachers at the time, and had numerous long discussions about the ways that IRC, online newsgroups, and the World Wide Web were changing both learning and teaching.

It seems like a lifetime ago, but one of his comments stuck with me then and still holds true: “With the Internet, it’s not about who you know any more. It’s about who knows you.”

This month’s cover story taps into one of the latest ways that technology is breathing life into my friend’s comment. The topic is context-aware technologies, a term that, as managing editor Christine LaFave Grace explains, “means different things to different companies, but generally refers to some combination of hardware and software that provides insights into an asset’s real-time operating conditions.”

It could be as simple as adding RFID tags to pallets or tools for improved tracking of each, or it could mean adding vision to self-guided vehicles to prevent or eliminate collisions. It also mean sensors that record the environmental conditions in which product lines are run, enabling improved quality control, reduced downtime, and better decision-making in real-time. These technologies also can extend into the realm of people, with biosensors, proximity sensors, and other instrumentation available to help organizations optimize workflows and protect its most valuable resource.

One fascinating consumer application is offered by GreenPeak Technologies, which specializes in combining Internet-enabled motion sensors with pattern recognition software. Once installed at key locations throughout a house or apartment, the system can identify the living patterns of people in their homes and then send alerts to loved ones and/or health care providers when anomalies are detected. Anomalies can be as simple as sleeping through an alarm clock, or as subtle as slow deterioration of walking speed over months or years.

My friend’s saying also came to mind in connection with a fairly new cloud-based supply chain solution for sourcing commercial-grade 3D printed parts and products. Less than a year ago, one of the challenges for plant teams was to identify the routes to market in order to obtain 3D printed parts as needed. Now, an online platform developed by 3Discovered takes the work out of finding suppliers, in the form of an online platform that allows you to identify your key project specifications (including time to manufacture and ship), and which then generates a list of available additive manufacturing vendors and their price quotations.

It could be context-aware sensors finding you, or new online platforms that help the right vendors surface when you need them, but these technologies increasingly are taking the work out of being found and revealing new process efficiencies along the way.

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