This is the future: a smooth synthesis between the physical and the virtual worlds—a seamless integration between things and information, between activity and data.
This is what every innovation the last five years has been leading toward and what forms the subtext to every manufacturing technology story published in the last year—from big data and analytics to augmented reality and Google Glass. Even the 3-D printing craze is part of it, actually creating reality out of data.
Ford (IW 500/8) has been at the fore in this movement for years, which we have dutifully covered here at IndustryWeek. As has Siemens (IW 1000/35) with its increasingly sci-fi PLM offerings. And with them, of course, is the real harbinger of the future, Google, which offers just about everything else.
But last night news broke that these three agents have combined forces to give the world its first clear view of how this future is really going to look.
It came in the form of Siemens' IntoSite application, which Ford will be soon begin piloting across several of its facilities.
According to Siemens, the software, which is one-part simulation, one-part communication, one part PLM and one part Google Earth is designed to help improve communication efficiency, globalization and standardization across a diverse array of manufacturing facilities and assembly plants.
It allows users to navigate plants and workstations virtually a la Google Earth, creating a "private virtual space where users can easily save and share materials, helping to better communication within plants and around the word," according to the official Siemens release.
For its part, a representative from Ford says the software will "increase the speed of adopting and implementation for our manufacturing teams around the word" in such a way that caters to "a world where visual communication now can be more effective than email."
And that sounds great. It sounds very much like the future we've been waiting for.
But what's really exciting here, as Fords' Marty Smets, describes the video below, is how far the list of possible applications extends and how there doesn't seem to be any end to them in sight. No one really knows how this will work, what benefits it will offer, or how much value it will add. All they know is that the potential is huge.
It is, as it stands, an open experiment in the physical/virtual merger in the industrial space. From it, success of failure, value or none, we'll see a model form on how this next evolution of manufacturing software is going to shape the future of industry.