Capitalizing on IIoT to make better decisions

Improved data and analytics offer a greater insight into efficiency.

By Matt Puzio, Victaulic November 15, 2017

Smart technology is an indispensable resource for business competitiveness and growth in the Information Age. It has introduced a new paradigm to the economic model, changing the way companies operate and invest in business development.

Today, digitization is allowing a multitude of devices to be connected using communication technologies that produce systems able to monitor, collect, exchange, and analyze data to deliver valuable insights like never before. By capitalizing on the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), companies are finding ways to remove inefficiencies and use these insights to improve productivity, delivering smarter and faster business decisions.

Manufacturing was among the first business sectors to recognize that leveraging the IIoT and Big Data could improve productivity by reducing human error and expediting decision-making. What began as a move to manage the risks of cost increases, decreases in profitability, and the persistent fear that jobs would be lost overseas became the foundation of progressive manufacturing that uses smart systems and tools to significantly streamline operations and increase productivity.

Today, companies are discovering new solutions to old challenges through intelligent web connectivity. This new industrial revolution enables better processing of big data for enhanced productivity, streamlined operations, reduced costs, and perhaps most importantly, improved safety.

In the age of IIoT, companies are seeing the expansion of automated production and increased data exchange built on improved data analytics, better human-machine interfaces, and advanced production methods. This has the potential to dramatically change how goods are made.

Huge advances are being achieved by adapting this technology for predictive maintenance, enabling companies to review sensors and obtain feedback remotely. By communicating with analytic software to interpret information, machine tool operators, construction managers, and manufacturers can make decisions in real time and know immediately if they are operating at peak efficiency. This improved decision-making is one of the most promising attributes of IIoT.

Much can be learned from the productivity gains manufacturing is experiencing through the application of smart tools and systems.

Manufacturing sector outpaces construction industry

Some sectors of industry are advancing more rapidly than others in this new ecosystem. A recent McKinsey & Company report took a look at performance in several industries and discovered a noticeable productivity gap between the manufacturing and construction industries. In analyzing production data, McKinsey found that manufacturing has nearly doubled its productivity in recent decades while construction productivity has been flat over the same time period.

While some of this growth can be attributed to modularity/standardization and minimizing waste through the application of lean principles, the successful implementation of IIoT is undeniably a significant contributor.

Recognizing the successes achieved in manufacturing, the construction industry is seeking manufacturing companies that are willing to share their IIoT experience and the lessons they have learned. The hope is that by understanding the successes in manufacturing and how they were achieved, the construction sector can achieve similar advances.

Smart technology for pipe fabrication

One of the enablers in this new way of working is smart technology. This is commonly defined as technology that can adapt automatically and modify behavior to fit a particular environment. Using sensors, this technology analyzes and infers from collected data and can “learn” and adapt to improve performance, in a sense anticipating and reasoning about what to do next.

Smart technology takes advantage of sensors, databases, and wireless access to collaborate and improve processes. The result of implementing smart technology is an added level of precision in manufacturing.

In the preparation of pipe ends for joining lengths of pipe, for example, it now is possible to deliver precision-formed pipe ends using a semi-automated process. Integrating IIoT through an intelligent roll grooving tool has eliminated the need for measuring and recording the specifications of each individual groove. The previous extent of fine tuning and adjustment has been removed from the process, allowing a machine operator to complete the procedure without interruption. IIoT has helped to reduce risk and produce an end product that is certified to the specifications.

With this approach, a machine operator introduces size change through intelligent technology. Now, simply hitting a button initiates the change instead of manually measuring and adjusting the size.

Smart technology delivers a significant change to manufacturing by efficiently gathering, tracking, and managing data. Taking grooved pipe end preparation again as an example, while the grooving data from the tool was collected previously, it was not optimized efficiently. Either a voluminous amount of data was collected but not used because it was labor intensive and time consuming to interpret, or data about every project, every piece of pipe, every size, and

every groove was measured and tracked manually, creating a lengthy process with considerable potential for the introduction of human error that generated data that was difficult to manipulate and manage.

The time it takes to record groove dimensions manually is significant, and tracking the data once it is recorded so it can be used when it is needed is next to impossible. Using the IIoT has allowed that step to be eliminated completely. Now, a roll grooving tool records dimensions automatically and transmits data from the tool either through email or each tool’s secure web server.

Personnel using the equipment have confidence in a machine that provides an accurate groove every time. The process delivers efficiency gains. And quality control is built right into the tool.

One of the great advancements to come out of IIoT in manufacturing is the development of a standard, common programming language—MTConnect—which has enabled communication and interoperability across networks. Standardization has not only made the development of smart tools possible, but has provided even greater value to the end-user because it can communicate using a universally understood language.

Tools enable real-time remote troubleshooting

Smart technology also is being used to improve operational uptime, by allowing for real-time troubleshooting on the shop floor, truly one of the game-changers emerging from IIoT. If technical difficulties occur in the shop, the operator can speak to a team of specialists to discuss and help solve the issue as it arises. Any equipment that is connected to the Internet can be serviced by technicians from anywhere in the world.

Sensor data transmitted and stored in the cloud allow a manufacturer with access to evaluate the performance data of a piece of equipment, tool, or product and to run diagnostics remotely. The results can be used to perform predictive maintenance, adjust for improved productivity, or identify components that require software updates.

The level of customer service that can be provided on tools produced this way is leaps and bounds ahead of customer service provided for traditionally manufactured parts and equipment.

Increased safety with proximity scanners

Manufacturing, fabrication environments, and job sites are very much the same when it comes to safety. The slightest mishap can lead to work stoppage or worse. New technology answers the call for increased worker safety as much as it does for creating a more streamlined, efficient workplace.

Smart technology has opened the door for some advanced safety features, such as proximity scanners that can automatically stop a machine when they sense someone has entered the work area. They also prevent accidental startups. This is one of the improvements that has new smart roll groovers outfitted with these proximity scanners which can be customized to the shop environment.

Improving the mechanical process with automation

Automation control technology is key to succeeding in the machinery sector. Big Data and analytics are being adopted across industries, including in the manufacturing of piping systems.

These new automated processes include gathering critical data that can be stored and easily accessed on demand if historical data is needed.

Mistakes that are the result of human error have been reduced drastically through the implementation of IIoT, which is now able to facilitate risk reduction of data errors by successfully combining a focus on people, process, and technology.

A once manual process, susceptible to human error, now streamlines through automation. This in turn should reduce data errors, rework, and risk while improving productivity. By ensuring that people understand the data, the guidelines to follow, and how to improve data quality, organizations can reduce data errors and gain a competitive advantage.

Intelligent technology rapidly is becoming the norm rather than the exception in transportation, the automotive industry, retail and residential buildings, manufacturing, agriculture, and medicine. But none could benefit more quickly and significantly than construction. Innovative systems and tools that today are capitalizing on the power of the IIoT in manufacturing hold the key to unlocking transformational gains in productivity, safety, and efficiency for the global construction industry.

Matt Puzio is technical leader in the tool technology department at Victaulic.