How Model T Thinking Shapes 21st-Century Manufacturing

21st-century manufacturing is based in 20th century tech like the Model T.  Tourists at Gettysburg in a Ford Model T.
“Tourists in a Ford Model T at the ‘Devil’s Den’ at Gettysburg Battlefield in Pennsylvania, c1910-1915” by crackdog is marked under CC PDM 1.0. To view the terms, visit https://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/mark/1.0/

One of the greatest challenges for any successful business is knowing when it’s time to change.  After all, conventional wisdom says “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.”   But with 21st-century manufacturing technology changing at such a rapid pace, those who stand still will soon be left behind. 

The last time the world saw technological advancements at this pace, Henry Ford was just figuring out the assembly line.  By looking back at Ford’s adoption of the new technology of his time we may be able to learn how to properly read today’s technological trends. This knowledge will help prepare us for investing in AI and automation at the most advantageous time for our manufacturing, warehousing, and distribution systems.  

Leverage Automation

Sectional view of an early Ford Engine.  21st-century manufacturing built upon 20th century ideas.
“In the Ford Model T, the transmission, magneto, and engine were mounted together as a unit, all lubricated by the same oil” by The Henry Ford is licensed under CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Henry Ford was not a newcomer to the car business when he began producing the Model T in 1908.  Before starting the Ford Motor Company, Henry worked for several other automotive companies where he contributed to the creation of the Quadricycle and the Ford 999. But he dreamed of a vehicle for ‘the great multitude,’  and so the Model T was born. 

Unfortunately,  the original Model T was still too expensive for most Americans.  When Ford began churning the cars out via assembly line, however, their price dropped significantly. 

In 1909, workers were using traditional methods to piece cars together. That year, a Model T cost $825. Production was under 11,000 units. But in 1916, three years after Ford started using assembly line production,  the Ford Motor Company produced over half a million Model Ts. Each one sold for $345.

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Bring Legacy Equipment to the Industrial Internet of Things Age

This photo of industrial equipment by Michal Jarmoluk from Pixabay

There are reasons to bring legacy equipment into the Industrial Internet of Things (IIot) Age.

Most manufacturers work with older equipment. A 2017 McKinsey report notes factory machinery and tools have an average age of 11 years. Industrial equipment lasts by design; we even use the term “industrial strength” to attribute higher-than-usual durability and power to everything from bug spray to boots. And when something is still working–and working well–a full upgrade to something new can be a difficult sell.

But many of these older legacy systems were created before the age of connected manufacturing systems, which bring with them a number of added benefits. A connected “smart factory” can mean higher productivity, increased flexibility, a safer manufacturing floor, and lower costs.

One option that bridges the gap between a full upgrade and missing out on all these benefits is to perform a retrofit of connected IoT gateway and data feedback devices. But until recently, this kind of upgrade was a complicated and costly affair. But it doesn’t have to be anymore, and more options are available.

What is the Industrial Internet of Things?

IIoT or the Industrial Internet of Things is the industrial extension of IoT. Automation in a traditional factory improves through the use of interconnected smart sensors. Other instruments work with sensors to take advantage of data collection and analysis. This happens on a networked (Internet) platform.

Options for Connecting your Factory Floor

There are several options now available for connecting your legacy systems to the IoT. These include

  • Retrofitting IIoT Connectivity. IoT gateways use software, sensors, and industrial-based control systems to provide a simple connection that can send data in real-time.
  • Using Video Cameras. Video analytics allow cameras to recognize objects, people, or issues on your floor automatically.
  • Using Edge Devices. Data can be accessed via local devices. This can improve security and provide access to process data more quickly.
  • Using Biometric Devices. Your employees can become part of your data acquisition through the use of biometric wearables or tags. This works in conjunction with additional upgrades.
Infographic: Bring Legacy Equipment Into the IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) Age
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