Gayle Sheppard (1)

Reimagining factory operations: A Q&A with new Bright Machines CEO Gayle Sheppard

April 4, 2023
"I believe the transformation begins by solving for the disconnect between engineering and production."

Today, former VP & CTO of Microsoft Asia Gayle Sheppard becomes chief executive officer of Bright Machines. A veteran technology executive with more than 30 years of experience, Gayle will lead development of the Bright Machines' solutions that are changing how and where products are manufactured. 

Here we chat with Gayle about reimagining factories, the importance of where products are manufactured, and the evolution of cloud-centric manufacturing. Take a look...

Smart Industry: You talk of reimagining factory operations. What does that entail?

Gayle: Reimagining factory operations involves the integration of digital technologies such as IoT, AI, and big-data analytics into manufacturing processes, driven by the need for increased efficiency, flexibility and customization in response to changing customer demands and global competition.

I believe the transformation begins by solving for the disconnect between engineering and production that make machines expensive, difficult to configure and program, inflexible, and non-standard once in operation. Bringing intelligent software to factory operations enables engineers to manage their manufacturing lines' configuration and optimize them continuously. As data is collected, analysis and machine learning enable data visualization to be tracked and monitored in real time to inform every segment in the production lifecycle. Yields and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) will improve as software simplifies interactions with machines and provides critical workflow tools to manage production. 

Our customers also experience a reduced risk of errors and defects, increased product quality, shortened lead times, and enhanced worker safety. All of the benefits of software-led intelligence gained from each step of the assembly can be applied across manufacturing lines, factories, countries, contract manufacturers, and insourced manufacturing. 

Our mission at Bright Machines is to help our customers significantly increase efficiency, quality and competitiveness while bringing manufacturing close to their customers.   

Smart Industry: What is the biggest current change / trend in where products are manufactured?

Gayle: The ongoing shift towards regionalization or nearshoring is the most significant trend in where products are manufactured. This is driven by rising labor costs in traditional manufacturing hubs, geopolitical tensions, and the COVID-19 pandemic, all of which have put revenue and sustainability at risk. 

Manufacturers have realized that building closer to their consumers provides several benefits, such as a better understanding of their needs, faster scaling to meet demand, minimizing supply-chain disruptions, and reduced energy costs. In addition, companies that build where they sell have an inherent advantage in today's market, where high quality and fast time to market are critical to success. 

Modern technology—software-driven approaches to automation—enables more agile and efficient manufacturing processes that can be scaled and customized to meet changing customer needs. This approach provides the advantage of quickly right-sizing production capacity anywhere in the world with the flexibility to react to market shifts. In addition, the cost to implement automation varies little across geographies, making it possible to move to higher-wage countries or those with labor shortages. 

These trends are reshaping the global manufacturing landscape and will significantly impact where and how products are made in the coming years. 

Smart Industry: As you adopt your new role, what most excites you about opportunities with cloud-centric manufacturing?

Gayle: There are many exciting opportunities with cloud-centric manufacturing. One of the most promising aspects of this approach is the ability to connect machines, devices, and systems seamlessly and securely using cloud-based platforms and applications. This enables real-time data collection and analysis, which can help to optimize production processes, reduce downtime, and improve product quality. It also allows for greater collaboration and information-sharing across departments and geographies, which can help to accelerate innovation and speed up time-to-market. 

Machine learning, computer vision, 3D simulation, cloud architecture—I’m excited about how all of today’s modern technology is shaping the factory of the future, and I am thrilled to be at the helm of a company that has the opportunity to impact how and where people make products.