I am not in love with the Internet. I don’t “surf” for fun, but only to get information. For me, it’s just a tool—an often-frustrating but highly useful tool. The evidence I’ve seen in recent weeks, and especially at the NPE 2000 show in Chicago, indicates that plastics processors won’t get very far without this tool in the near future.
First, there are those innumerable “e-business” start-ups clamoring for your attention. There’s a good chance that you won’t buy materials or machines, sell surplus resins or used equipment, bid on processing jobs, bill your customers, or hire new personnel without using the Internet. (That’s why we’re planning a directory of “e-resources” to accompany our November issue.)
But the “e” phenomenon is a lot bigger than buy/sell commerce. New CIM software will allow you to monitor your shop-floor operations over the Web, whether on your desktop, laptop, or hand-held wireless computer. You won’t necessarily have to buy, install, and maintain large ERP software packages in the future. You could “rent” the software over the Internet on a remote computer at an “application service provider.” Just upload your data to a secure private “work space.”
The same goes for CAD and CAE (flow-simulation). Molders, moldmakers, designers, CAE specialists, resin specialists, and the ultimate end user will all share CAD/CAE models over the Web. They won’t all need to have the CAD/CAE software—just a browser to view and manipulate the model.
Even molding machines and extruders are becoming “Web-enabled.” Operators will touch one key to launch a face-to-face conversation with a remote service technician to discuss a machine or process problem. Or the operator will hold up a part to a Web camera on the control console and discuss whether parts are coming out good or bad. And operators will use e-mail to contact supervisors and set-up or maintenance personnel when they need help.