Fear of the unknown has fueled a tremendous body of innovative works. Examples within the manufacturing realm could range from something as simple as a fuel gauge to complex modeling and software solutions focused on predictive maintenance and inventory management. In both instances, a desire to combat fear with knowledge was embraced as a solution.
In contrast, these same fears can create an enterprise-wide state of paralysis that prohibits the integration of potentially game-changing procedures and technologies. Instead of addressing the unknown, it is simply ignored, feeding apprehension and delaying the solution. In many instances, this is how the manufacturing sector has reacted to the growing Industrial Internet of Things movement.
A recent report from LNS Research showed that more than 81 percent of responding manufacturers either had no immediate plans for IoT-related investments or were in the infancy stages of IoT planning. This presents an interesting dynamic for U.S. manufacturing, and an opportunity for the forward-thinking enterprise.
In discussing IoT with manufacturers from across the country, the leading sources of concern seem to stem from four main areas:
- A lack of IoT knowledge, which, ironically enough, can often be found within a number of already-present, internal solutions.
- Seeing a return on the time and energy associated with strategic IoT implementation.
- Figuring out the best place to start the process.
- Deciding which internal sections of the company to task with managing and measuring IoT platforms and tasks.
The reality is that many of the technologies that encompass Industrial IoT have been in place for some time. What the Internet of Things really does is simply connect all of these resources via an established infrastructure – the internet or a corporate intranet. The combining of machine-to-machine communications with remote monitoring with ERP platforms with inventory management is what is new. Individually, these tools have been utilized in manufacturing for years.
However, the implementation of these resources and the incorporation of mobile devices have established some unique elements that can be intimidating. This is reinforced with new focal points such as cloud computing and network security that demand more attention in the age of Big Data. The keys to seeing past these fears and focusing on solutions is looking to past successes with related technologies, and trusting the vendors and internal managers who have made them successful.
Making It Count
Justifying internal investments is nothing new to manufacturers. Another recent LNS Research report showed ROI justifications for improvement-focused investments as the second most commonly cited challenge for U.S. manufacturers. Justifying ROI is difficult to showcase within the confines of a blog because it will vary by a manufacturer’s geography, expertise or market segment.
However, some general ways to help validate IoT-related costs can include:
- Assessing the amount of time saved by connecting more data-driven assets.
- Identifying the additional number of tasks that can be performed by one individual or tracked by one work cell, as opposed to calling on multiple individuals or operational areas to compile and utilize the same data.
- Calculating the efficiencies gained by greater worker autonomy to make on-the-spot decisions driven by greater access to more data via multiple devices.
- Showcasing how better decision-making can lead to safer workplaces, less supply chain disruption and the resulting cost controls.
- Promoting this technology and approach can help bridge the skills gap in positioning your enterprise as a leader in recruiting and retaining manufacturing talent.
Initial ventures into the IoT space can also seem daunting until manufacturers realize that they’ve been here before with new equipment set-ups, software implementations and process improvement programs. The key to success during these early stages will stem from starting from an area of strength.
Again, there is no cookie-cutter blueprint for IoT implementation, as it will vary from company to company. So what will be essential is properly assessing current platforms and data sources in understanding which employees and areas of the operation are best utilizing the related technological assets. Whether your journey begins with production, quality control, purchasing or supply chain, it should be an area with a proven track record of success with connected platforms.
Looking To The Future
The management and accountability of IoT-related programs and strategies can be another unknown for manufacturers. Without a clear champion, it is easy for these initiatives to be devoid of both leadership and proper funding. While the primary voices of many IoT programs may be grounded in IT or Operations, considering an approach similar to that taken when forming safety teams is worth considering.
IoT is meant to have far-reaching impacts, so developing cross-functional teams that can contribute ideas on where to start, where to invest and how to most accurately measure results on several fronts would produce the greatest impact. This level of contribution could lead to a quicker implementation, easily identifiable initiation points and a quicker ROI. All of these goals can be realized due to the connected nature of IoT and the manner in which improving one area of the enterprise will positively impact others.
The Industrial Internet of Things is not a simple concept. Nor is it one that a single blog can explain away. However, it’s also not a topic so complicated that manufacturers should fear or ignore its potential in realizing the greater levels of efficiency, data-sharing and global competitiveness it brings.