As an emerging technology, machine to machine (M2M) communication is a fast growing revenue segment of the telecommunication industry. In fact, Forrester Research is forecasting M2M service revenue to reach US$17 billion globally by 2016.
Should we be actively considering M2M as an opportunity for our industry – does it promise business value for mill products and mining companies?
By now, most of us have heard about the connected car where M2M technology is used to connect a vehicle to a cellular network. The connected car enables features like automatic emergency calls, traffic information, & breakdown assistance which have become selling features in the automotive industry. Enhanced services include video streaming and information about special deals at nearby grocery stores (based on GPS data). Even insurance companies are debating using data collected from cars to calculate insurance premiums based on driver’s behavior: average speed, acceleration, distance driven, geo-fence information, and other data.
In the Mill Products & Mining Industry, we have traditionally used M2M to collect data from the process control systems of fixed manufacturing assets via enterprise interfaces. M2M, using cellular technology or Wi-Fi mesh networks, opens up a new avenue for the remote data collection from mobile or regional distributed assets.
Connectivity is only one link in the M2M communication value chain. To monetize the investment into the communication network harnessing the data generated by connected devices is an important necessary step. The amount of data transmitted in an M2M environment can be significant and we need the right tools to store the data volume, to condense and analyze the data so we can trigger an event if necessary – including providing actionable business information that allows a human or – ideally – an application to react.
The catalyst that will trigger the event: Is it a discreet value out of the normal range, or is it a set of transmitted sensory data in a specific time horizon which is analyzed to determine a trend requiring action? Consideration also needs to be given to other factors that have a correlation with the monitored sensor data, like geo-fence data about weather conditions. Once the event has been triggered, perhaps a decision needs to be made to disable the sensor or ignore further submitted data – but for how long? Another option might be to continue monitoring the situation, which may lead to triggering a higher level emergency event.
The anticipated remedy for rectifying the event: The event recipient can be a human or an application directly; both in the end will have to trigger an action. The appropriate action can only be taken if enough detail data is available. Specifically for processing the event further by an application the completeness and format of the data is important.
Let’s assume we received an event that the oil pressure of a hauling truck is below a certain level and needs some urgent attention. With the information available are we able to trigger automatically an urgent maintenance or service order? Because of known current GPS coordinates of our technicians and the effected truck – which were transmitted via M2M connectivity – we can identify the ones which are closest to the oil pressure issue, match their qualification with the type of issue and send them automatically the repair order to their mobile device. We also could request (may be in parallel) a first inspection of the issue by the driver – think of a checklist send to his mobile device – to provide a better picture of the problem and communicate the result with the right stakeholders for faster decision making and problem elimination.
M2M technology is an enabler to transform the way we are doing business today. Receiving data from mine or plant equipment automatically in real time via M2M connectivity is only the beginning. How we analyze and enrich the data into actionable business information needs to be thoroughly thought through. The way we react based on that information will mainly drive our ROI.
Bottom line: The speed of action and level of automation we can achieve with M2M technology embedded into business processes can bring significant value. The opportunity to react faster on critical situations before they get costly should encourage us to spend some more time exploring how to utilize this technology.
If you are interested in this topic and want to actively participate in a M2M co-innovation project with SAP, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for further details.