How Will Smarter, Connected Machines Affect The Supply Chain?

There are lots of buzz words within the concepts of IIoT and Industry 4.0. Smart manufacturing initiatives are focused on manufacturing flexibility, increasing automation levels and digitization. This isn’t so much the next industrial revolution, but an evolution.

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Mark DuncanMark Duncan

There are lots of buzz words within the concepts of IIoT and Industry 4.0. Smart manufacturing initiatives are focused on manufacturing flexibility, increasing automation levels and digitization. This isn’t so much the next industrial revolution, but an evolution. These initiatives will reshape the way that factories, distribution centers and warehouses look and the way they operate. Such evolution requires embracing a multitude of technologies and ideas that will have a massive impact on plant/facility managers, system integrators and OEMs.

The IIoT vision is a world where connected products with varying levels of intelligent functionality — ranging from simple sensing and actuating to fully autonomous operation — operate as part of a larger, smarter system. Edge computing will allow collection of data between the cloud and equipment in a facility and provide autonomous flexibility and operation. In the end, the optimization of supply chain performance is the goal.

Implications – Operations Perspective

IIoT and smart manufacturing has been building momentum for years. At first, simply having connected products could deem an operation “IIoT-ready.” But now, there is a growing appreciation for a higher IIoT readiness: the ability to leverage connected devices for their data-capture capability and the use of this data to improve the efficiency of the entire operation. 

Spending investments relative to IIoT are projected to reach between $1.7 to $4 trillion by 2025. These investments will include spending on:

  • Hardware: web enabled “things” that provide the IIoT data
  • Connectivity: “edge” network and computer infrastructure to connect the “things” Data Infrastructure: Cloud and datacenter capability to manage and store vast amounts of data
  • Professional Services: to create, manage and support the IoT infrastructure
  • Value Added Services: made available by the data and connectivity (everything as a service XaaS)

Implications – Supply Chain Perspective

IoT has the potential to positively disrupt the supply chain of every industry by radically improving the efficiency of manufacturing, retailing, distribution and customer service.

At the same time, the demand for energy will continue to increase under the pressure of three megatrends:

  • Urbanization: Over the next 30 years we will urbanize 70 million people every year.
  • Digitization: Over the next five years we will connect to the web 20X more devices than new people resulting in an increase in traffic, more data, greater storage demands and higher energy consumption.
  • Industrialization: Industry is already more than 30 percent of the world’s energy consumption, and it is projected to increase by 50 percent over the next 35 years.

With increasing automation in manufacturing, packaging, retailing, warehouse distribution, and fulfillment comes increased use of motors, which in turn leads to increased energy consumption. As a result, the kWatt-per-package-shipped metric increases.

Transformations and Possibilities

The first transformation is mobility. Mobile, smart connected devices makes communication with various elements of the supply chain easier and allows for user-recognition. In other words, the buildings, machines and processes in a supply chain can actively recognize managers and specialists using information from their mobile devices.  

The second transformation is the affordable secure cloud. Now the facility manager, the contractor, the end-user and the manufacturer can all work at the same time using the same database to improve the efficiency of the plant, warehouse, or production facility. Additionally, large companies can hire remote specialists to manage their facilities — facility managers no longer need to be geographically tied to a specific location.

The third transformation is Analytics. By leveraging data analytics, facility managers can optimize performance at every level of their operation.

Transformations in Material Handling

For equipment manufacturers and engineers, there are three core advantages of smart manufacturing. The first is better material handling asset performance. Deployment of cost-effective wireless sensors, cloud connectivity (including WAN) and data analytics, will improve asset performance. These tools allow data to be easily gathered from the field and converted into actionable information in real time. This will result in better business decisions and a forward-looking decision making processes. The cost-effectiveness of wireless/cloud solutions will result in an acceleration of typical applications such as condition-based monitoring, preventive maintenance and energy management.

The second advantage is greater process automation control. Next-generation IIoT systems will enable better integration of legacy production, life-cycle, and supply chain systems, which will result in improvements to overall enterprise efficiency and flexibility. IIoT technologies will enable tight integration of smart connected machines and smart connected manufacturing assets with the wider enterprise. This will facilitate more flexible and efficient — and hence profitable — manufacturing, and distribution systems. Smart enterprise control can be viewed as a mid-to-long-term trend. It is complex to implement and will require the creation of new standards to enable the convergence of IT and OT systems.

The third advantage is deeper insight for operators. Future employees will use mobile devices, data analytics, augmented reality and transparent connectivity to increase productivity. As fewer skilled workers are left behind to man core operations due to a rapid increase in baby-boomer retirement, younger replacement supply chain workers will need information at their fingertips. That information will be delivered in a real-time format that is familiar to them. Thus, the facility evolves to be more user-centric and less machine-centric.


With the use of sensors and the intrinsic knowledge regarding its own capabilities and features, a smart machine will be able to monitor its own key components as well as environmental conditions. By providing relevant information to both operators, connected data consumers at the OEM, and the end user, the smart machine enables manufacturing lines to produce in a more reliable, flexible and efficient manner.

This level of machine monitoring also enables preventative maintenance, helping to avoid component failure and associated downtime or damage to the machine or components. Material handling machines at the forefront of development will increasingly use sensors, both wired and wireless, with embedded intelligence helping to distribute and automate decision making on the factory floor.

Safety & Cybersecurity

With security built into their fundamental designs, smart machines will improve the safety of operators and minimize the security risk of increased networking.

In terms of safety, machine builders need to offer a broad range of flexible options. This will include dedicated safety components, such as laser scanners and safety cameras, together with automation components with embedded safety, such as safety PLCs and safety drives. The ability to utilize a mix of safety components and controllers will allow machine builders to fit the solution to specific end user application requirements, helping to improve overall performance and productivity

In addition, end users seek devices that can be installed within a short timeframe. Integration into the rest of the system must be easy — the ability to “plug and work” is crucial.

Digital Mobility

Machine operators and factory floor engineers in ever greater numbers are embracing the concept of using mobile devices at work. These devices provide operators with the flexibility to move around while still accessing machinery data. Engineers can also diagnose problems and offer guidance remotely, which speeds up implementation of a solution and reduces downtime and losses from component failure.

Existing Smart Machine Technologies

Smart machine technologies are appearing on the market now. These include automation solutions and products for machine control, motion control, motor control, power supply and protection, and operator interface existing. Let’s explore a few examples.

Greater Process Automation Control

An enhanced SCADA system is an easy solution for flexible and efficient development, distribution and management of production and supply chain visibility. It makes the complexity, created by digitization, and the connected world manageable. It creates a bridge between the diverse OT and IT systems and helps to deliver the right information, in the right time, to the right recipient.

Smart, web enabled, PLCs are a universal approach for smart machine control in a broad range of material handling applications. They meet the needs of simple to complex machines and enable OEMs to connect easily machines with the cloud via Ethernet interfaces, web server and in the future with OPC UA.  From any place in the world machines can be monitored and controlled securely and in real-time.

Machine data can be transferred to cloud services to generate added value for end users like production management with predictive maintenance, enhanced control, energy management, and more — all basics for the IIoT story.

Advanced motion controllers are a new choice for motion centric applications and decentralized Material Handling applications. They are dedicated for high performance production machines and process lines, including robotic elements. Easy vertical integration via Ethernet and integration in web based services via OPC UA standard are key elements for maximum machine and lines availability.

Intelligent AC Drives are also appearing. The first range of products are service-oriented variable speed drives for smart machines that can achieve maximum flexibility and extend machine availability. Allowing comprehensive connectivity and integration, these intelligent variable speed drives will increase machine availability, agility, safety and performance. A drive that can monitor the performance of the connected asset, i.e., conveyor, and provide detailed information on the health of the asset (energy consumption, position, speed, uptime, safe operation, maintenance, etc.).

Deeper Insight for Operators

Automation products with dynamic QR codes help an operator get a failed device back online as quickly as possible with direct access to electronic documentation and technical product support.

Thin client software enables users to view plant data on mobile smartphones and tablets, making it easy to access instant, real-time information and empowering fast decision-making.

New HMI configuration software allows remote access to your HMI with new apps for tablets and smart phones.

Wireless devices allow for simplified setup and management.

Industrial switches like push buttons and limit switches are truly wireless (no battery) for communication and power making them very cost-effective to install.

There are remote Wireless Pendant Stations, making the hoist operator more productive and safer.

Mark Duncan is Material Handling & Global OEMs Marketing Manager of Industry Business at Schneider Electric.

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