Caveat Lector

Mike BuetowSince man first walked, he has been scouring the skies for understanding of how he came to be. Big events are bound to enhance our learning, but capturing those moments and making sense of them is never a simple task. In August came one of those big moments astronomers had been waiting a lifetime to witness: the collision of two neutron stars.

While the cosmic event answered questions astrophysicists had long been contemplating, it also opened a new world of questions. The answers to at least some of those questions are buried in mountains of digital data that could take years to sort through.

A similar situation is unfolding in factories worldwide. We no longer look at machines in isolation, nor do the machines themselves act independently. Systems designed to check the work of other machines on the line are proliferating. Those machines generate immeasurable amounts of data, some of which are used to independently resolve ongoing or potential processing “events,” big and small. But the capture of all these data threatens to bury already overworked engineers.  

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Mike BuetowFor years I’ve resisted the calls (and occasional) urge to expand our vehicles for delivering information to voice or video. There are a number of reasons why.

For one, I felt – and still feel – a large percentage of our subscribers actually like the activity of reading. (After all, you are reading this, right?) This has been borne out by the fact that we maintain a subscriber base of more than 60,000 designers and engineers. That’s a lot of eyeballs, and it doesn’t begin to take into account the thousands and thousands more who aren’t subscribers and read the magazine online.

I also recognize that for many in our industry, work is all-consuming. Seriously, when outside the office, how often do you check your email, or log in to see how your factory is running? Frequently, I imagine. The tools that allow us to physically escape the office have the ironic capability to keep us tethered to it. Health experts advise that when you have a chance to disconnect, you should take it and not look back. Easier said than done.

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Mike BuetowI sat with Irene Sterian at the SMTAI technical committee recognition dinner in September. (As an aside, if you’ve never had the pleasure of speaking with Irene, you really should find the time. She could make rubber chicken seem interesting.) Amid conversation on IoT, islands of St. Bernards, Quebec City, Elon Musk and cats, we got to talking about disruptive technology.

It was one of those conversations where you completely abandon the good manners your mother taught you, as you keep interrupting the other party out of excitement about the topic.

To be clear, I believe “disruption” is often an inflated term. Most of what we call disruptive is really just “painful to a certain segment of people or business.” Take ride-sharing, for instance. Type in “Uber” or “Lyft” and “disruptive,” and a Google search returns a combined 850,000 results. But what have those businesses truly changed? We still use what is essentially 100-year-old technology – cars – to get from Point A to Point B. Ride-sharing may have altered the value of the municipal taxi, but it certainly did not change the transportation industry.

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