In my last column, I shared how change is happening so fast that companies don’t have the luxury of time any longer to wait to make change. In order to keep pace and compete in this economy, you must “live in the future” yet “act today.” Those who live in today or the past risk becoming irrelevant to the marketplace and being left behind.

So, how fast are we moving? Well, since January’s column, new technology advances have been released that are game changers for many industries. Each month, new advances in automation are taking shape that will create opportunity or eliminate your company’s business model.

Before I discuss five elements that your plant needs to focus on, take a look at two new technology developments launched in the last couple of months.

Amazon GO Stores

Located in Seattle, Wash., and tested over three years with their employees, Amazon went live with their first brick-and-mortar GO Store. With “waiting in long checkout lines” being the #1 pain point for consumers in retail stores, Amazon’s GO Store has none. You may be asking, “So how do you pay for your goods?” Very simple. When you enter, you scan your Amazon GO Store app. Once inside, anything you pick up and put in your physical cart gets put in your online cart. When you walk out of the store, the app charges your credit card, and you are immediately sent a receipt – all with no human interaction or checkout lines. The employees you do see are there for assistance and stocking. This is HUGE for any industry in retail, or supporting retail, in that it minimizes the number of people it takes to deal with a consumer.


In 2018, LG (South Korea) is launching robots to automate three customer-service interactions. They are:

  • Serving food and beverages at hotels and airports
  • Hotel check-in and check-out services
  • Assisting customers in supermarkets, telling them prices and product locations


5 Key Elements of IoT

I share these two examples of technology shifts to open your mind and show that almost anything can be automated in today’s world of manufacturing. You just have to figure it out. Both of the aforementioned companies are using robotics and artificial intelligence to eliminate errors and maximize capacity. Heat-treat plants need to start looking into the same solutions for productivity and capacity issues, especially given the labor shortage over the next 10 years.

You see, robotics and automation are NOT about eliminating people. They are about expanding capacity with your current set of employees. Heat-treat divisions and plants that figure out how to take one person operating two furnaces and (with automation) empower them to operate six furnaces are going to be the real market leaders in the future.

This is where the “Internet of Things” (IoT) comes in. Many have heard of the IoT, but most think that it only deals with the Internet or technology. This is not true. The full scope of the IoT is the combination of five key elements.

  • Technology
  • Human capital
  • Machines
  • Processes
  • Data

The question for your plant is: Are you maximizing the use of each of these five areas to excel at productivity, safety, quality and output?

If not, you have some work to do.

It is critical that your captive heat-treat division or commercial heat-treating plant gets your team focused on each of the five elements that make up the IoT so you can maximize your ability to compete in the future.

Take time to sit down with your entire team and look at your operation from every angle. Brainstorm what you are missing to ensure that you are maximizing technology, human capital, machines, processes and data.

Those who leverage the IoT will win in the future. Remember, you are a manufacturing plant first and a heat-treating plant second. Get your team together and start winning at the Internet of Things.