Receiving the Dieter W. Bergman IPC Fellowship Award earlier this month, brings reflection on the meaning and importance of work contributed to IPC standard committees, not only by myself, but with other members of Aegis, together with hundreds of peers in the industry, experts in their fields, who collectively recognize the need and value of standards in the industry. But what is an IPC standard, how are they created, and what do they mean for us all?
As with the creation of an Oriental pearl, the need for a standard starts off as an irritant, a problem, a challenge; driven by cost, quality, or just the need to make something work properly. A complete understanding of any problem requires consideration of many perspectives. Both problems and their solutions need to be considered from every angle, so as to avoid addressing only the symptom, as opposed to the root cause.
In the process of exploring the problem and solution, details emerge of how things should be done in order to avoid the problem from happening, and to encourage the solution in terms of ease of adoption, cost effectiveness etc. It is never popular to create solutions that solve the original challenge, but in so doing, introduce peripheral issues that have a worse effect than the problem. Simply moving a problem from one place to another is not a solution, and is particularly difficult when balancing quality, costs, lead-time, effort, risk etc. altogether in one pot.
Contributions from multiple key committee members is therefore essential, as the cumulation of knowhow is applied, and best practices emerge. If the work is done well, the result appears relatively simple. Users of standards will simply apply the guidance in order to qualify their work in the industry, drive operational improvements, or simply understand how to best perform their activities without the need to spend years discovering it for themselves.
This process however does require the contribution of time, and in effect, intellectual property. Why would any organization seek to benefit others in the industry, especially those who are competitive, who will undoubtedly simply buy the standard, apply it, and enjoy the same opportunities and benefits as those who created it?
This is where the customers across the industry really learn about the true nature of the companies they work with. Where companies focus only on their own self-interest, we see a “poisoned” marketplace, where “fake news” is used to market solutions, and proprietary technology is used to actively prevent interoperability with other technologies or solutions. The end-user ends up having to bankroll all of this. As digital manufacturing became mainstream, companies were there to take advantage, sucking out literally millions of dollars of value from an industry that could ill-afford paying over and over again to use what was effectively, their own data.
Taking the example of the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) IIoT standard, interoperability of all manufacturing data across many solutions simultaneously, without the cost or burden of middleware, has already shown the signs of becoming a huge success and benefit to all those that utilize the technology. My colleagues and I within Aegis, along with several other companies across different technology segments within the industry, have contributed a great deal to make this happen. Everyone involved has benefited. All of us, in theory, have developed the last interface that will ever be required, potentially over time replacing hundreds of different interface formats and methods that each of us has had to develop and maintain over many years. None of that work nor cost represented value to the customer. Benefit comes only from the use of data, contextualized and used in conjunction with algorithms through which values are obtained, the ontology within FactoryLogix.
So why the award? Sometimes, it takes a little push and encouragement, showing by example, inspiring thought and consideration of the greater good for the industry. Day to day business pressures take priority, but, the most responsibly mature companies will provide opportunities for these commitments. The CFX standard has been quite a famous example of how interoperability has benefitted end-users, machine vendors and solution providers alike in the industry. Such strategy has also been applied to create the IPC Digital Twin standard, to achieve interoperability across silos, including design, manufacturing and out into the market itself, creating the biggest and most effective closed-loop feedback path of product performance and reliability imaginable. The IPC traceability standard has been expanded to include a complete methodology to eliminate ingress of counterfeit materials into the supply-chain. The use of exact material traceability in manufacturing, together with blockchain-driven security of logistics within the supply-chain, which now is extending into component level authentication and manufacturing-specific cyber-security, are other areas of standard that I am involved in.
Thinking ahead, anticipating market needs, creating standards that inspire interoperable solutions, before the various irritants become significant, is very fulfilling on a personal level, and of course, a benefit for Aegis. The real reason for the award however is how contributions made have been a benefit to the industry as a whole, which only you as members of the industry can judge. I encourage you to take a look into the exciting work that the various committees mentioned here are doing, whether as a spectator, a critic, or a strong contributor, all are welcome. There is no commitment required, you don’t even need to be a member of IPC. Let’s continue to work for the good of all of ourselves, building holistic industry value.
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