One of the things that humans are really good at is naming things. The more archaic, the more obtuse, the more cloaked in secrecy the name is, the happier we are. That’s probably because we want to feel special. We want to be the ones with the special handshake that others don’t know.
Recently I found a name I’ll admit I hadn’t heard before: Cyber Physical Systems or CPS. It’s a new one and it describes the emerging digitization of manufacturing. It’s an all-encompassing term that includes other somewhat vague terms like Smart Machines, Smart Processes and M2M Communications.
Traditionally the manufacturing world is controlled by higher level systems known as MES Systems. These systems translate the orders developed by a business into manufacturing plans and instructions. An MES system might look at the incoming order stream and download the recipe for Blue M&Ms into Line 2, download the recipe for Red M&Ms into Line 3 and not send any instructions for Brown M&Ms. The machines themselves are not very intelligent. They would only understand how to decode the recipes and activate the components that start that instruction process.
In an advanced Cyber Physical System, this process is very different. In that kind of system, as soon as a customer noted a decreasing supply of M&Ms, the conveyor system would be alerted to send M&M bags into the production process. The conveyor might then alert each of the other components of the machine that bags are on the way and pass on the requirements of the customer. At the end of the process when boxes are ready to ship, the end customer would be notified that a box with this many bags is shipping.
In this example, the filling station may note that it is getting low on blue coloring and order more. The conveyor may note that it’s been 100 hours since the machine was oiled and notify a technician to perform that maintenance.
Cyber Physical Systems is a complete integration of the manufacturing process. It’s external integration with suppliers and customers. It’s internal integration between machines and components of machines. It’s smart machines effortlessly passing data and information about the process and operating status to other smart machines. It’s a continuation of the digitization of our world.
The benefits of Cyber Physical Systems are many. They include incredible flexibility – the ability to easily alter the production flow or implement new processes. It includes mass customization – the ability to create individually customized units within a mass production process. You also get reduced time to market, higher quality and lower marginal cost.