LNS Research Principal Analyst Dan Miklovic continues his posts on the Digital Transformation with this follow up on Operational Excellence.
Tulip Operations Calling, Digital Factory Conference, and HiveMQ Connack
Apart from being known for Fenway Park, Dunkin Donuts, and bad drivers, Boston is getting a new identity. The historic city is quickly becoming a hub for smart manufacturing and Industrial Transformation and has begun to host several key industry events over the past few years. Just this past week, I attended three such events in Boston, each ironically focusing on one of the three key pillars of Transformation - people, process, and technology.
Let's take a closer look at each of the three events and some of my key takeaways from the week.
[People] Tulip Operations Calling: It's all about the frontline in Assembly Square
Since its inception, Tulip's product and messaging have focused on the premise of improving manufacturing productivity by supporting and empowering the frontline workforce. Its inaugural user conference at its headquarters in Assembly Square was no different. With an impressive attendance of over 400, the day-long event was consistent in its central theme of accelerating value to the frontline workforce throughout the day's keynotes, panel discussions, and breakout sessions.
Kicking off with Keynotes
Tulip's CEO Natan Linder began the festivities with a keynote on how today's manufacturing needs a calling to realize that the most valuable resource is not the most advanced machine or computer but the humans running them and why we need to train, upskill, take care of, and respect the frontline if we need autonomous manufacturing to become a reality. Linder also called out the need for an ecosystem of technologies, solutions, and partners to build an effective next-gen operational architecture.
Keynote: Youri Regnaud, Head of Manufacturing Products at Cartier
However, the highlight of the day was Youri Regnaud's keynote on building a composable manufacturing ecosystem at Richemont, the Swiss luxury goods holding company. Regnaud's keynote stressed the importance of compromise and how Richemont balanced multiple priorities and constraints across three axes - people, architecture, and collaboration in their ten-year journey.
Applying LNS Research's very own Andrew Hughes' research on the Seven Lives of MOM, Regnaud walked the audience through their journey from a monolithic MES system with point-to-point integration to a decentralized approach with lightweight MES systems to functional applications. Regnaud also mentioned that it was an iterative process as the team went back and forth on several aspects, such as paper vs. paperless, centralized vs. decentralized architecture, and IT vs. OT ownership, as they continuously applied lessons learned and compromised throughout the decade-long journey.
Product Announcements and Partnerships
The event also showcased a couple of product updates to the Tulip platform. First, the introduction of Frontline Copilot, a generative AI solution aimed at the frontline. The solution, which is still in beta version as of this writing, demonstrated several innovative capabilities such as translating entire applications in near-real-time, extracting relevant information from PDF documents and image files, and generating analysis with conversational prompts. Another feature update worth noting is the Machine Kit, an edge-based connectivity solution that streams data out of legacy devices within minutes.
Tulip's Frontline Copilot Launch
Finally, staying true to Linder's keynote message on the importance of building an ecosystem, the event also showcased several technology partners like Aras, Formlabs, Highbyte, HiveMQ, Landing AI, Litmus Automation, Seeq, United Manufacturing Hub, ZeroKey, etc. that demonstrated how their respective solutions integrate with the Tulip platform and offer a holistic solution to the end user.
With a robust product, strategic partnerships, an increasing customer base, and a comfortable cushion of VC funding, Tulip seems to have built a solid foundation for continued growth over the next few years, as highlighted in LNS Research's recent Connected Frontline Workforce Applications Solution Selection Matrix. That being said, the inaugural event and the product announcements led to a couple of questions.
First, there have been some concerns that while the user-created applications do what they're supposed to, they're not as sleek and intuitive as the out-of-the-box applications. While this is not a critique of the product itself, since Tulip does provide UI templates and training courses to help the citizen developer get started, it begs the question of how much Tulip is willing to make sure the user-created apps are every bit as intuitive as its own library of apps. One could make the argument that UI/UX is not as important as core functionalities, but for some of the digitally challenged personnel in the frontline, that could potentially be the difference between embracing Tulip or falling back to older habits.
Second, with the introduction of Frontline Copilot, Tulip moves one step closer to the world of big data, large language models, and artificial intelligence, and with all that comes IT's data governance and compliance policies. Given Tulip's presence in regulated industries like pharmaceuticals and medical devices, it will be interesting to see how Tulip's data storage, security, training, and other underlying principles for its AI models evolve as the Copilot feature moves from beta into production sites.
[Process] The Digital Factory Conference: Industry Leaders Discuss Chaos to Convergence
Next up was the Digital Factory Conference at the SoWa power station, which included a remarkable lineup of recognized industry leaders, entrepreneurs, policymakers, and educators taking the stage.
The day began with keynotes from CEOs of sponsors Autodesk (Andrew Anagnost) and Formlabs (Maxim Lobovsky) that touched on some of the key trends in today's manufacturing, such as skills gap, workforce productivity, and sustainability, and how Autodesk and Formlabs are solving such problems.
This was followed by a fireside chat-style conversation between Rockwell Automation CEO Blake Moret and Tulip CEO Natan Linder on the need for open systems and standards in the industry and how industrial technology vendors must focus on flexibility and humility to achieve convergence in today's disconnected manufacturing processes.
Rockwell Automation's CEO, Blake Moret & Tulip CEO, Natan Linder
The event had two interesting panel discussions. The first one, Designing the Resilient Supply Networks of Tomorrow, focused on critical issues outside the factory, such as the need to rebrand manufacturing as an exciting job and fulfilling career for the next generation and how COVID-19 and the CHIPS Act are enabling the transition from prioritizing efficiency to resiliency in today's supply networks. On the other hand, the second panel, Building and Operating a Digital Factory, focused on inside the factory walls, highlighting the importance of enabling data flow to make processes more efficient and the need for a top-down + bottom-up approach.
While most of the other sessions throughout the day were led by industry leaders and technology vendors providing business updates and customer case studies, there were also representatives from state and federal agencies, including Cynthia Hutchinson and Yvonne Hao, to discuss the convergence of business and policymakers to bring manufacturing back to Massachusetts and the United States.
Overall, the event provided some insights and validation on several topics relevant to manufacturers, such as the plateauing of manufacturing productivity, the convergence of IT, OT, and business functions, and artificial intelligence and large language models. However, one area I expected to see and hear more about was the reimagining of processes and governance of management systems. While a few sessions touched on Lean and the digitization of continuous improvement processes, it was paltry compared to the other technology topics.
LNS Research's studies on Industrial Transformation (IX) Readiness show that transformative initiatives are often not embedded into existing management systems such as Lean, Six Sigma, World-Class Manufacturing, TPM, etc., leading to stagnant or diminishing returns over time. While some islands of digitalization exist in most sites, they don't engage with or influence the decision-making processes. Manufacturers must realize that a transformative initiative is not just sticking digital technologies on top of existing processes but requires a complete reevaluation of the process and management systems.
[Technology] HiveMQ Connack: A closer look at the building blocks of a next-generation architecture
The third and final event of the week was HiveMQ Connack, held at a coworking space in Quincy Market. Sponsored by HiveMQ, the fast-growing MQTT platform company, the half-day event included a keynote address by industry stalwart Tom Fisher, a panel discussion on the possibilities of edge computing, and a few product demonstrations.
Fisher's keynote touched on the evolution of technology, data architecture, connectivity protocols, and cyber-security throughout his career across companies like IBM, eBay, Qualcomm, Oracle, etc. He shared anecdotes about how data architecture has and will continue to oscillate between centralized and decentralized approaches, and ideally, use cases should drive the architecture and not the other way around. Fisher emphasized the importance of product marketing and messaging for early-stage startups, claiming that "Even the greatest technologies won't work if you can't sell it."
Following the keynote was a panel discussion on Edge computing, data contextualization, and the impact of artificial intelligence. Among other discussions, the panelists, representing three different companies, agreed upon two things: the absolute necessity to prioritize data quality and hygiene for scalable analytics, and an event-driven unified namespace-based architecture.
Highbyte, TDengine, and United Manufacturing Hub Product Demonstrations
Finally, we wrapped up with product demonstrations of three up-and-coming companies: Highbyte, an Industrial DataOps platform company that provides contextualization at the edge; TDengine, a next-gen data historian built for Industrial IoT use cases; and United Manufacturing Hub, an open-source Industrial Infrastructure platform provider that helps manufacturers build a truly open, vendor agnostic, scalable architecture.
While the three companies provided different pieces of the architecture puzzle and don't compete with each other, I believe there is an overarching alignment of principles and values that I think is essential for manufacturers to adhere to for successfully scaling advanced analytics and transformation.
First is the need to bring data out of existing silos. Each company plays its part in establishing efficient data collection, storage, transformation, and processing.
The second is democratizing data usage and analytics skills. While managing data and analytics has always been an IT responsibility, these companies are driven by a common vision to democratize that and empower business users to leverage data and analytics independently.
Finally, there is a need for an open ecosystem of industrial platforms. These companies (and many other industrial technology vendors) accept that they cannot enable transformation by themselves and are embracing partnerships and co-opetition.
I believe these values are essential to transform manufacturing successfully, and given that the Industrial Technology vendor landscape continues to consolidate over the next few years, I would recommend manufacturers on the path of transformation to keep an eye out for companies that share these values.
Summary and Key Takeaways
All in all, it was a pretty busy but productive week across Boston. It began with Tulip's inaugural Operations Calling event, where the main focus was empowering the frontline workforce. Next was the Digital Factory conference, where industry leaders discussed the importance of management systems and governance policies to scale transformation effectively. Finally, HiveMQ's Connack discussed several new innovative technologies and how they work with each other to architect transformative solutions.
Here are some of my key takeaways from the week:
A manufacturer's most valuable asset is its frontline workforce. To apply Industrie 4.0 and achieve autonomous manufacturing, companies must prioritize training, upskilling, and empowering frontline workers.
True Transformation requires an ecosystem of partners. Even the biggest tech companies cannot bring about transformation by themselves, and they need to establish partnerships and open their platforms and systems to create, consume, and transfer data across each other.
An event-driven unified namespace architecture is a must for companies trying to break out of the ISA-95 constraints and enable real-time bi-directional data flow across IT and OT.
All entries in this Industrial Transformation blog represent the opinions of the authors based on their industry experience and their view of the information collected using the methods described in our Research Integrity. All product and company names are trademarks™ or registered® trademarks of their respective holders. Use of them does not imply any affiliation with or endorsement by them.