The black hole of manufacturing

Tuesday June 30, 2015
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Jun. 30, 2015 - The future of manufacturing is application dependent and two examples of this come to mind. One is the understanding of black holes, and the other is regarding Google’s internal organization.

A black hole is known by its surface only — much like a factory automation process or a beer plant. What counts is what can enter the plant (“goes-inta”) and what comes out (“goes- outta”). A black hole, as it gets larger, increases its volume on the cubic basis. The black hole surface, however, only increases as the square. This means that the black hole content is not related linearly to the surface area, much like the complexity of large systems. The surface area of a company of process or country can be made to expand only by increasing the internal complexity to an astounding amount. This argues for small loosely coupled economies. Like small startups, profitability is inversely proportional to size.

Google understands this very well. If you go to Google and check on the “more” indicator, you’ll get about 50 different loosely coupled organizations. They seem not to be run by Google Corporate. Google Corporate is the gravity that holds the black hole we call the Google system together. Each of the agents in the Google system, however, is strong and independent as would be a small company.

This argues for small economic elements in any large system that perform specific functions with conductivity to the whole limited. The application concept used for the iPhone are examples of this application dependency of self-acting agents held together by a connectivity and a communications- oriented operating system. To some extent the internals of a black hole and the Google linkage are examples of the new philosophical aspect to agents and economic systems. These systems and elements also tend to be “intelligent.” I do not mean this to be intelligent systems as described in science fiction movies. This intelligence is much like the intelligence in your heart. The heart manages to beat without management. Management is distant and cannot stop the heart or allow the heart to hurt itself. I guess self-adaptive is a better word than intelligent. In the simplest case, the invention of feedback systems in 1936 was one of the first emergence of these adaptive reactive systems.

This means that future systems will require components that are a direct application targeted rather than an engineering performance. Most of us geeks think about performance as faster, better, cheaper when in fact the user wants it dependable, lifecycle costs and status. In the building information management (BIM) world, we utilize these three elements:

• comfort,
• security, and
• status.

Although BIM systems were initially designed for human beings, we can also consider the inhabitants being applications and manipulation elements. In this case, the applications in the iPhone and MtoM are perfect applications of this philosophy. To some extent, the programmable logic controller is a similar device. They are scattered throughout the world and appear as Google applications, modems, game cards and Wikis.

In summary, the internal technology that lets things happen is irrelevant but necessary. What counts is the ability of the application to be honest, self-adapted and run forever, even the purchase of the applications in these modern showcases of technology is made easy.

Dick Morley ( This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it ) is the inventor of the PLC, and author, speaker, automation industry maverick and self-proclaimed ubergeek.


This column originally appeared in the June 2015 issue of Manufacturing AUTOMATION.
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