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By and large, manufacturing has been conducted by skilled workers for the last two centuries. Man and machine combined in a way that changed how we work and our notions of how much output we could actually create. We’ve shortened production timelines, improved quality and streamlined process efficiency to never-before-seen levels.
There’s a story to tell here about process efficiency and kaizen, the Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement, but let’s save that discussion for a future post.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
IIoT refers to the use of a system of interconnected computing devices and digital machines that can transfer data over a network without any human involvement to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes.
It is driven by the belief that smart machines are better than humans at accurately and consistently capturing and communicating real-time data. This data helps manufacturers pick up on inefficiencies and problems sooner, saving them valuable time and money.
In a nutshell, manufacturers invest in networked sensor technology, which leads to better operational efficiencies due to minimal human involvement. No mistakes, no sick days, no training. Just output.
Reliable + Scalable + Cost-Effective = Perfect for the Manufacturing Industry
As a result, 60% of global manufacturers are slated to use analytics data recorded from connected devices to analyze processes and identify optimization possibilities according to IDC & SAP.
The bet is clearly on automation for complex tasks, easy monitoring and remote management of reliable data. Can you imagine trading of stocks at a physical location or piles of folders of consumer data? Don’t bother. The Global Electronic Stock Market and CRM software have made the old, clunky methods obsolete.
Now you get it.
The graphic below paints a picture that begs the question – Why would anyone do it any other way?
Industrial IoT in China
In 2015, China adopted a ‘Made in China 2025’ program to combat preconceived notions about Chinese manufactured goods and ensure that its already excellent manufacturing facilities are prepared for the future.
The Government hasn’t been shy about putting its weight behind this either. The Minister of Industry and Information Technology said, “In remedying the link between laboratory products and their industrialization, we will focus on innovation in mechanisms and systems, rely on relevant enterprises to combine universities and research institutes, and speed up the construction of innovation centres that specialize in new materials, robotics and other aspects.”
While that sounds great, what really matters is its application in the real-world. The existing manufacturing facilities are designed for existing methods, so the government will have to nudge manufacturers in the right direction and get them to buy into the change. After all, this movement is capex-heavy and you simply can’t afford a spanner in the works (no pun intended) on your path to increased manufacturing efficiency.
The Benefits of IIoT
1. The Digital Factory of the Future
Operations & Factory Managers can share information with partners and decision makers that allow them to make adjustments in real-time. Automate-Calibrate-Optimize is the name of the game as manufacturers can focus increasingly on efficiency and unit economics – a boon to any industry operating at such a scale that a small process improvement can result in millions being saved.
With so many tools and machines requiring precise conditions to function, the use of IoT sensors will be help ensure everything is in optimal condition, which will result in lower maintenance costs, wastage and downtime.
2. The New Normal – Seamless, Efficient, Safe
IoT in manufacturing will optimize everything from raw material input to logistics, enabling automated micro-management of the process like never before.
Imagine an optimized global supply chain with every component tracked in real-time to create a real, workable system of just-in-time inventory management. This is not hyperbole – it’s already happening.
And that’s not all. IIoT and big data can help reduce injuries, health hazards and dangerous working conditions while also minimizing your environmental impact and carbon footprint by reducing factory emissions and waste and optimizing the use of transportation.
Good for people, planet and profits? It might just be.
3. The Consumer is Always King
The reduction in production time, product costs and quality issues enabled by the IIoT works to the benefit of consumers all over the world. Of course, the most immediate impact will be lower prices. However, over a longer term this will also lead to better product experience and after-sales service.
IoT integration at every level will allow manufacturers to track a problem or lack of performance the instant a consumer does and take steps without the user needing to contact them. Data tracking can trace product decline from manufacturing to logistics and over its usage life cycle.
The ability to anticipate and resolve problems before they happen will take all the emotional roller-coasters out of consumer redressals. Surely CRM teams worldwide will find this a goal worth fighting for.
The Industrial IoT Has its Own Challenges
Like every new technological paradigm, the IIoT will cause major upheaval in the existing social and economic orders, especially in the fundamental area of patterns of employment.
People will take some convincing, especially if they feel like their jobs are on the line. This is the often-overlooked human element that cannot be ignored by companies looking to take advantage of Industry 4.0. This issue won’t be an easy fix – it will take time, tact and a lot of involvement from all stakeholders.
This technology is in its infancy, so it is bound to experience growing pains. Self-learning machines will need to be carefully designed so that their failures don’t break the business, while also allowing them the time and space to collect data and become more efficient.
The reliance on a network of connected devices also creates unavoidable security risks that have yet to be sufficiently mitigated. As the IIoT becomes more prevalent, companies will have to make sure that their systems are secure and free of outside interference – something that is far from assured in today’s hyper-connected world.
None of these challenges are insurmountable. However, it is important to acknowledge them and work towards to overcoming these issues as we move towards a better, faster and more efficient manufacturing industry.
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