As Industry 4.0 surges forward, many manufacturers are still pondering what it means and how or whether the latest industrial revolution will affect them. First coined in Germany over ten years ago, Industry 4.0 speaks to a collection of technologies that have matured to allow the creation of a totally connected “smart” factory. By harnessing these technologies, companies can connect not only their machines but all company operations across their entire base of production equipment in a way that bridges differences in software and is agnostic to issues such as OEM model type and equipment age. And as the power of this revolution becomes apparent, more companies are cautiously seeking an on-ramp for themselves to tap the potential of Industry 4.0.
Industry 4.0 Solutions – Making the connection
Companies seeking to leverage their data to improve efficiency and maintain or improve their competitiveness should first assess where they are currently. And while many have extensive automation capability within their current manufacturing equipment base, it is often a conglomeration of data that remains uncollected or underutilized. To the extent that data is collected and used, the method of analysis is often disjointed and human-driven. It is not collected and processed in real-time and more often than not, is backward looking, leaving current conditions and future data trends out of the decision-making process at the expense of efficiency.
To find the solutions Industry 4.0 has to offer, companies should also be realistic in what they want to achieve and what resources and capital they can realistically invest. Larger companies can deploy focused teams to develop overall strategies for area specific and discipline specific results. Small to medium companies, however, often do not possess the in-house expertise for a complex division of labor and may need to seek outside expertise to help develop their path forward. But companies of all sizes will find all these technologies available to them as they develop an implementation plan that matches their business strategy.
Organizations should also know current market trends within their industry to determine where and how to benchmark themselves against competition. This includes an assessment of what levels of customization customers are seeking for their products and what degree of operational agility is required to meet those expectations.
Putting Data to Work
By developing an internal strategy and understanding of where they are, companies can begin to leverage their data through the Industrial Internet of Things. The Industrial Internet of Things includes internet-connected technologies that combine edge technology, software adaptors and other sensors and measuring devices connected to and integrated with software that utilizes advanced analytics and machine learning. This allows them to not only capture data that was previously under collected, but also to utilize the deep analytical capability to produce actionable and precise decisions that drive marked improvements in efficiency.
Industrial IoT allows for optimized Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE) by processing data and allowing equipment to perform semi-autonomous adjustments based on a wide range data. However, the benefits extend far beyond OEE. Industrial IoT and the connected factory is multi-dimensional in impact. It allows for efficiency improvements horizontally from supply chain through manufacturing and beyond to logistics and distribution. But it is also vertical to an organization connecting a single version of truth through uniform data from the operator at the shop floor level through executives in C-suite. In addition to OEE at the manufacturing level, data can be utilized to improve inventory accuracy, supply chain performance, labor planning, capacity planning and predictive maintenance.
Connecting the Dots…and the Data
Many companies consist of a large number of small shops. Industrial IoT utilizes simple connections and devices that can be connected directly to the cloud. These plug-and-play devices can be connected to software adaptors to “pull through” data that had previously languished on PLCs and was rarely utilized. This allows equipment from different OEMs and large differences in machine age to be equalized to produce data for use in insightful reports.
The analyzed data can be visualized in real time to provide both autonomous decision-making as well as improved decisions at the managerial level due to the quality of data and analysis available. Dashboards, localized machine level interfaces, tablets and shop floor screens allow operators and managers to drill down to review data such as downtime in a real time setting and to visualize where problems are occurring in the present and how to address it early on, or prior to, its occurrence.
This global visualization can’t be overstated and with a system that provides robust reporting native to the software, a “roadmap” can be developed to improve efficiency. Such visibility has been shown to improve efficiency by as much as 20% and higher depending on industry!
Getting on Board
So why are companies so resistant to the adoption of Industrial IoT when the potential benefits are so large? Well, for many companies these barriers are self-imposed. Some decision-makers with strong backgrounds in operations and manufacturing are wary of new tech. Having seen the frustration of mixed and patchwork software not deliver on promises, they may not have fully grasped the meta reality that one version of truth and a unified data analysis system can deliver. Other companies may not have the in-house skillsets that would be required to articulate the benefits much less deploy them once purchased. And others may fear over building or under-building an IoT ecosystem because of their lack of knowledge over a new and exciting technology.
The remedy for these barriers is in the beauty of Industry 4.0 and in technologies available with Industrial IoT. Unlike past patchwork solutions, today’s IIoT systems are comprehensive and customizable to organizational size as well as need. Companies can benchmark themselves to understand what elements to include and what they can exclude based on their assessment of their industry and their individual business strategy. This ability to customize a solution is accelerated by the ability for the system and the data to reside in the cloud to streamline hardware purchases and allow them to take advantage of updates as they occur.
To take advantage of this, companies can seek partners with expertise to develop an Industry 4.0 solution with deeply integrated IIoT capability that fits their reality. These partnerships can come through consultancy to evaluate and assess what is required to connect the operation as well as provide the guidance for implementation to bridge any gaps with in-house skillsets. By finding and engaging partners within the technology, companies can implement a successful automation project that fully connects their operation while turning their data from an underutilized and clunky mass into a sleek operational advantage that boosts efficiency and drives decisions.