IIoT and the Smart Factory: The Case for Shop Floor Applications that Understand Business Context
Every factory has one – that mission-critical piece of manufacturing equipment around which everything is oriented, the machine that anchors the plant.
Often, it’s an older piece of equipment, one that doesn’t have any intelligence to predict performance and maintenance. If this machine breaks down, there are few options but to halt operations and get it fixed. All hands on deck!
This is no way to run a factory, not when issues like operational resilience, uptime, and availability are top of mind. To keep improving – to achieve that elusive 1% to 2% efficiency improvement (even when you’re already running at +95% efficiency) – you need a different approach. Enter the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Platforms are important, but . . .
The goal is to move toward the “smart factory”: the self-correcting, always-on, optimally efficient plant that can meet the highest productivity demands while adhering to standards for quality, performance, and sustainability.
To get there, manufacturers are leveraging IIoT. By installing sensors on machines, you add a level of intelligence with the tracking of critical KPIs such as temperature, vibration, moisture, uptime, wear and tear, and more.
But installing the sensors is just one part of the solution. The hard part is making sense of the data generate. IIoT platforms for tracking sensor data throughout the plant are an important first step – but by themselves they don’t get you all the way there. In fact, if you stop there, you’ll likely end up with an unmanageable data swamp.
IIoT for automation
What’s needed is a way to enrich the IIoT data in your factory with business context and leverage that data at every step in your value chain. This requires modern, integrated business and manufacturing applications – running in the cloud – that are designed with IIoT use cases in mind.
Contextualizing IIoT data with business information from ERP and manufacturing operations, such applications can tell you a lot more than if your machine is running hot and heading for a failure. They can tell you the impact on your business – alerting you if a manufacturing run is at risk, which customers are affected, and the cost associated with any downtime.
Ultimately, IIoT is not about the data generated but about the insight you can glean from that data. If you need to pull data in manually, run reports, analyze the results, and only then take action, you’ll lose efficiency and limit your ability to meet customer expectations.
IIoT for the modern workforce
Manufacturers – particularly on the higher end – constantly complain about the troubles of finding qualified workers. This is leading many to explore IIoT as a way to automate production as much as possible.
But even if you can find the right talent, the new generation of shop floor workers are not only comfortable with a high degree of technology support, they expect it. They expect to be able to control operations using state-of-the-art applications from a smart device such as a tablet or smartphone.
Having access to data at the point of work, seeing into operations in real-time, and making decisions in the here and now – that’s the way you achieve efficient operations. For a demographic that has never known anything other than Amazon and Google, it’s the only way to attract and retain talent.
IIoT for sustainability, too
A lot of IIoT is about better tracking – and when it comes to meeting sustainability goals, there’s no way to do it other than by tracking your emissions and waste. With IIoT sensors monitoring all aspects of manufacturing operations, you can measure critical KPIs, analyze their impact, and take action.
An IIoT approach to sustainability can also speed compliance by auto-generating the data you need for reporting. But again, the critical point is the insight and action – not the data by itself. For actionable insight, you need integrated manufacturing and business applications that are IIoT-ready and capable of putting the data generated into clear business context.
This discussion, of course, barely scratches the surface of use cases for IIoT-ready business applications in manufacturing. To learn more about how manufacturers are meeting the demands of today’s consumers by moving toward smart factories and IIoT, have a look at this report on digital transformation and Industry 4.0.