Is manufacturing IT conservatively behind the tech curve or out on the forward edge of innovation? That depends upon whom you ask.
Talk to Jennifer Hartsock, group CIO for construction industries at venerable equipment manufacturer Caterpillar, and she'll tell you about combining mobile technology with truly giant machinery.
One mining vehicle stands so high that workers require a multi-flight staircase to get to its upper reaches. Caterpillar employees need access to its manufacturing execution system (MES) software while they are building the vehicle, so Hartsock's team worked with its business counterparts to put desktop virtualization software on iPads to run the MES from the ground, then slipped the tablets into a heavy-duty case with a magnetic back. "The case attaches magnetically to the side of the vehicle, so they have their instructions right in front of them," says Hartsock.
On the other side of the technology divide there's George Lasseigne IV, director of technology for Warren Manufacturing, a Birmingham, Ala.-based maker of bulk-feed trailers and agricultural spreaders.
Lasseigne recently spent $250,000 on a brand-new machine -- a computer-controlled plasma cutter -- for his company's assembly line. The unit, which arrived in late March, uses Windows XP as its embedded operating system.
That's right -- the machine is being installed about the same time its operating system is reaching its end of life.