How Wi-Fi 6 and 5G will transform factory automation

By Al Presher – A key technology trend for automation and control in 2020 and beyond is the emergence of wireless communications including 5G, Wi-Fi 6, LoRaWAN and more. An obvious benefit for factory automation is the use of wireless communication for remote monitoring and remote operation of physical assets but an equally important benefit is an ability to replace cables, unreliable WiFi and the many industrial standards in use today.

One major step forward for wireless technologies in industrial communications is the recent certification of Wi-Fi 6. The announcement by the WiFi Alliance moves this technology ahead by enabling vendors to move toward the release of certified products, in advance of IEEE ratification process of IEEE 802.11ax expected to be completed in 2020.

Wireless vendors are anticipating that 5G and Wi-Fi 6 will be deployed together in smart manufacturing applications. They share technology that makes wireless solutions more deterministic, especially important for mission-critical IoT devices used in factory automation. The anticipated tiered release and extended timeline for 5G deployment is expected to result in Wi-Fi 6 rolling out more quickly than 5G. more>

Updates from Chicago Booth

Why central banks need to change their message
The US and European central banks thought they could manage their economies by bringing their secretive plans for interest-rate regulation into the light. But they didn’t account for an unreceptive public.
By Dee Gill – A lot of people don’t have a clue what central banks do, much less how the institutions’ ever-changing interest-rate targets ought to affect their household financial decisions. Recent studies, including several by Chicago Booth researchers, find Americans and Europeans oblivious to or indifferent to the targets’ implications.

This is a serious problem for policy makers. For a decade, monetary policy in many developed economies has relied heavily on forward guidance, a policy of broadcasting interest-rate targets that works only if the public knows and cares what its central bankers say.

“The effects of monetary policy on the economy today depend importantly not only on current policy actions, but also on the public’s expectation of how policy will evolve,” said Ben Bernanke, then chairman of the US Federal Reserve, in a speech to the National Economists Club in 2013. At critical times since 2008, forward guidance has been the Fed’s and the European Central Bank’s go-to tool for revitalizing their ailing economies and holding off widespread depression.

Forward guidance usually involves central banks announcing their plans for interest rates, which traditionally were guarded as state secrets. The openness is intended to spur investors, businesses, and households to make spending and savings decisions that will bolster the economy; typically, to spend more money during economic slowdowns and to save more when the economy is expanding.

Chicago Booth’s Michael Weber and his research colleagues, in several studies, tested the basic assumption that households will respond to forward guidance, and find it flawed. Most people, the researchers conclude, generally do not make spending and savings choices on the basis of inflation expectations. In personal financial decisions—for example, to pay or borrow money for a boat, refrigerator, or renovations, or to sock away funds for rainy days—words from central bankers hardly register. more>

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Capitalism’s Case for Abolishing Billionaires

Adam Smith wanted to keep the power of the rich in check.
By Linsey McGoey – Adam Smith is remembered as the patron saint of unregulated commerce, as the world’s greatest prophet of profit. His idea of the “invisible hand” has been used by countless economists and politicians to argue that capitalism works, despite its excesses and inequalities.

But this fairytale version is wrong. The actual Smith wrote of his dream for a more equal society, and condemned the rich for serving their own narrow interests at the expense of the wider public.

“The establishment of perfect justice, of perfect liberty, and of perfect equality,” he writes in Wealth of Nations, “is the very simple secret which most effectively secures the highest degree of prosperity to all the three classes.”

Today Smith’s call for “perfect equality” is either ignored or deliberately misrepresented.

But with 1% of the world’s population now owning half its wealth, that belief is being forcefully called into question. There are growing calls to abolish billionaires and their privileges, including preferential tax treatment, handouts to corporations, and grossly inflated executive salaries that are often subsidized by taxpayers.

Smith was scathingly critical of the wealthy’s disproportionate power over government policymaking. He complained about the tendency of the rich to shirk tax obligations, unfairly passing tax burdens on to poor workers. He heaped scorn on government bailouts of the East India Company. He thought dirty money in politics was akin to bribery, and that it undermined the duty to govern impartiality. He wasn’t alone.

The reality is that the historical case for abolishing billionaire privileges has a long heritage, stretching to enlightenment thinkers and the revolutionaries they inspired, including countless enslaved and working-class people in forgotten graves. more>

Updates from McKinsey

Why your next transformation should be ‘all in’
By Chris Bradley, Marc de Jong, and Wesley Walden – Business transformation programs have long focused on productivity improvement—taking a “better, faster, cheaper” approach to how the company works. And for good reason: disciplined efforts can boost productivity as well as accountability, transparency, execution, and the pace of decision making. When it comes to delivering fast results to the bottom line, it’s a proven recipe that works.

The problem is, it’s no longer enough. Digitization, advanced technologies, and other forms of tech-enabled disruption are upending industry after industry, pressuring incumbent companies not only to scratch out stronger financial returns but also to remake who and what they are as organizations.

Doing the first is hard enough. Tackling the second—changing what your company is and does—requires understanding where the value is shifting in your industry (and in others), spotting opportunities in the inflection points, and taking purposeful actions to seize them. The prospect of doing both jobs at once is sobering.

How realistic is it to think your company can pull it off? The good news is that our research demonstrates it’s entirely possible for organizations to ramp up their bottom-line performance even as they secure game-changing portfolio wins that redefine what a company is and does. What’s more, “all-in” transformations that focus on the organization’s performance and portfolio appear to load the dice in favor of transformational results. By developing these two complementary sets of muscles, companies can aspire to flex them in a coordinated way, using performance improvements to carry them to the next set of portfolio moves, which in turn creates momentum propelling the company to the next level.

If you want to see where you’re going, it’s best to start with a point of reference. Our choice, the power curve of economic profit, came out of a multiyear research effort that sought to establish empirical benchmarks for what really makes for success in strategy. To create Exhibit 1, we plotted the economic profit (the total profit after subtracting the cost of capital) earned by the world’s 2,393 largest nonfinancial companies from 2010 to 2014.

The result shows a power curve that is extremely steep at both ends and flat in the middle. The average company in the middle three quintiles earned less than $50 million in economic profit. Meanwhile, those in the top quintile earned 30 times more than the average firm in our sample, capturing nearly 90 percent of all the economic profit created, or an average of $1.4 billion annually. more>

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Updates from Siemens

The best reason to adopt cloud innovation software
By Blake Snodgrass – The decision on cloud timing varies based on each company’s scenario. The first step in the transition is to understand what your company’s goals are in the first place. The change driver may be reaching the limits of an existing solution, requiring new capabilities to support digital transformation, consolidating acquisitions, or choosing to modernize IT infrastructure. The impetus for moving to the cloud helps set the right objectives.

The cloud should not be the driver, in the same way that the goal of a software implementation should never be to “go live” with the software. There has to be some tangible business value. For product innovation and engineering software, what better reason could there be than to improve product innovation and engineering performance? The cloud is a means to an end. The real value is helping manufacturers improve the pace and level of innovation.

Improving product innovation and engineering is the bread and butter of CAD, CAE, PLM, and other engineering solutions. These solutions help provide the capabilities engineers and designers need to innovate efficiently. They offer collaboration capabilities that enable product development teams to work together so they can move faster and avoid introducing errors from disjointed processes. They also help coordinate processes and manage product development projects to ensure that projects are executed effectively.

Perhaps that’s old school, and clearly, on-premise solutions can deliver most of these benefits. But the cloud offers some special help here, as well. Today’s engineering teams are working with increased complexity and disruption, adopting new materials, systems-oriented designs, advanced manufacturing methods, and more. To remain efficient, they need to not only innovate their products – they need to innovate their innovation and engineering processes.

How does the cloud help? Traditional software deployments lock in processes and capabilities until the next upgrade cycle. With the cloud, innovations, functionality, and techniques developed by the software vendor can be made available on an ongoing basis. Access to new features allows engineering teams to take advantage of new software capabilities faster. more>

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Updates from Chicago Booth

The tax that could save the world
Most economists agree on how to tackle climate change. Can politicians make it happen?
By Michael Maiello & Natasha Gural – It was, perhaps, the closest that the economics profession has ever come to a consensus. In January, 43 of the world’s most eminent economists signed a statement published in the Wall Street Journal calling for a US carbon tax. The list included 27 Nobel laureates, four former chairs of the Federal Reserve, and nearly every former chair of the Council of Economic Advisers since the 1970s, both Republican and Democratic.

“By correcting a well-known market failure, a carbon tax will send a powerful price signal that harnesses the invisible hand of the marketplace to steer economic actors towards a low-carbon future,” the economists noted. All revenue from the tax should be paid in equal lump-sum rebates directly to US citizens, they added.

Not all economists agree that the tax should be revenue neutral in this way, but the profession has been coalescing in recent years around the idea of a carbon tax. Most prefer such a tax to the most prominent alternative policy for tackling carbon emissions, cap and trade, according to a recent poll of expert economists.

But a carbon tax seems to be a political nonstarter in the United States. The bipartisan call for action from economists over the years has been echoed by a failure to act by presidents from both parties. President Donald Trump denies the need to confront man-made climate change. But although Barack Obama, his predecessor, in 2015 called a carbon tax “the most elegant way” to fight global warming, he didn’t push strongly for one to be introduced. “One of my very, very few disappointments in Obama when he was president is that he did not come out in favor of carbon tax,” Yale’s William D. Nordhaus told the New York Times last October, days after winning the 2018 Nobel Prize in Economic Sciences for his work on economic modeling and climate change.

US states have shown that they, too, can reject a carbon tax. more>

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Why the idea that the world is in terminal decline is so dangerous

By Jeremy Adelman – From all sides, the message is coming in: the world as we know it is on the verge of something really bad. From the Right, we hear that ‘West’ and ‘Judeo-Christian Civilization’ are in the pincers of foreign infidels and native, hooded extremists. Left-wing declinism buzzes about coups, surveillance regimes, and the inevitable – if elusive – collapse of capitalism.

In fact, the idea of decline is one thing the extremes of Left and Right agree upon. Rome’s decline looms large as the precedent. So, world historians have played their part as doomsayers.

It is almost part of the modern condition to expect the party to be over sooner rather than later. What varies is how the end will come. Will it be a Biblical cataclysm, a great leveler? Or will it be more gradual, like Malthusian hunger or a moralist slump?

Our declinist age is noteworthy in one important way. It’s not just the Westerns who are in trouble; thanks to globalization, it’s the Resterners too. In fact, we are all, as a species, in this mess; our world supply chains and climate change have ensured that we are poised before a sixth mass extinction together. We should worry less about our lifestyle and more about life itself.

One dissenting voice in the 1970s was Albert O Hirschman’s. He worried about the lure of doomsaying. Dire predictions, he warned, can blind big-picture observers to countervailing forces, positive stories and glimmers of solutions. There is a reason why: declinists confuse the growing pains of change with signs of the end of entire systems. Declinism misses the possibility that behind the downsizing old ways there might be new ones poking through. more>

Updates from McKinsey

How to develop soft skills
As today’s skill shift accelerates, it is essential that organizations enhance and expand development initiatives for business longevity.
By Julie Avrane-Chopard, Jaime Potter, and David Muhlmann – As automation and artificial intelligence dramatically change the nature of work, employees must fine tune the social and emotional abilities machines cannot master. To encourage this behavior, employers must adjust the ways they assess, educate, train and reward their workforce on soft skills such as collaboration, communication and critical thinking.

Soft skills, which are commonly defined as non-technical skills that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with others, are vital to organizations and can impact culture, mindsets, leadership, attitudes and behaviors. These skills fall into the following categories:

  1. Advanced communication and negotiation skills
  2. Interpersonal skills and empathy
  3. Leadership and management skills
  4. Entrepreneurship and initiative-taking
  5. Adaptability and continuous learning skills
  6. Teaching and training skills

A key difference among today’s large-scale skill shift and those in the past—including the transformative transition from agriculture to manufacturing—is the urgency for workers who exhibit these capabilities.

Developing required soft skills and ensuring employees, and in turn organizations, are set up for success isn’t as simple as popping in a training video. Instead, companies must change their employees’ processes and behaviors—a much harder task.

Assessment is an important first step. Sizing the soft skill gap proves particularly challenging, since they typically lack systematic evaluation and certification mechanisms. HR departments must be equipped with a framework that codifies soft skills and defines their respective evaluation criteria.

For example, several European firms are employing “stepping stone” initiatives to build a digital platform to help workers evaluate their soft skills, know their strengths and development needs, gain access to specific trainings, and get certified.

Effective reskilling requires blended learning journeys that mix traditional learning, including training, digital courses and job aids, with nontraditional methods, such as peer coaching. One retail giant has distributed over 17,000 virtual reality headsets that immerse employees in unfamiliar situations, such as their first Black Friday sales day, and is training them in new tech, soft skills and compliance.

People naturally operate based on incentives—they do what is rewarded. To encourage people to not only begin their soft skill learning journey but to continue with it, rewards and incentives are critical. more>

Updates from Georgia Tech

Tiny Magnetic Particles Enable New Material to Bend, Twist, and Grab
By Josh Brown – A team of researchers from the Georgia Institute of Technology and The Ohio State University has developed a soft polymer material, called magnetic shape memory polymer, that uses magnetic fields to transform into a variety of shapes. The material could enable a range of new applications from antennas that change frequencies on the fly to gripper arms for delicate or heavy objects.

The material is a mixture of three different ingredients, all with unique characteristics: two types of magnetic particles, one for inductive heat and one with strong magnetic attraction, and shape-memory polymers to help lock various shape changes into place.

“This is the first material that combines the strengths of all of these individual components into a single system capable of rapid and reprogrammable shape changes that are lockable and reversible,” said Jerry Qi, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at Georgia Tech. more>

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Updates from ITU

Futurecasters’ Summit – bringing the voice of youth to the global technology debate
By Doreen Bogdan-Martin – Involving young people is particularly important to the work of ITU, the United Nations specialized agency for information and communication technologies.

Youth are natural adopters of technology. They are the ones who will inherit the world that technology is now shaping.

It is vital that we listen to their voices and to what they want from technology. It is vital that they become part of the solution to the challenges the world is facing.

The Futurecasters Global Young Visionaries Summit is hosted and co-organized by ITU and the Model UN program of Ferney-Voltaire, France.

The event is a program of youth-oriented consultations aimed at bringing the voices of young people to all major ITU development discussions and activities.

The Summit is built around the global success of the FerMUN Model UN led by the Lycée International Ferney Voltaire.

One of the very first bilingual Model UN programs in the world, FerMUN now regularly welcomes students and teachers from over 25 countries worldwide. more>

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