A hands-on approach for manufacturing

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will spark a plant floor revolution. Here's how to get ready for it.


The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will spark a plant floor revolution. Here's how to get ready for it. Courtesy: CFE MediaIn the trenches of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, manufacturing is changing, one plant operation at a time. The crucial tool in affecting what experts suggest will be a seismic change in plant operations may be the one that workers bring with them to the plant every day.

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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) requires slicing and parsing the staggering volume of data collected through existing devices and those yet to be installed. New software systems are designed to analyze and organize the data into useful chunks for every worker on the plant floor. It's all being delivered through new devices-tablets and smartphones and user-specific displays at workstations.

This Fourth Industrial Revolution also has spawned new terms: IIoT. Industrie 4.0 in Germany. Big Data. Digital Factory. The names may change, but the concepts converge around the same idea of connecting every part of the plant's operation to each other, and to the people who manage those parts.

If it all seems equal bits of "Star Trek" and "The Matrix" with a dash of Willie Wonka, don't be alarmed. Even the best of the IIoT experts concede we are just at the first stage of the process. Where we are headed, however, is clear. Strip away the whimsy and the uncertainty, and you are left with one fundamental truth: The Industrial Internet of Things will transform manufacturing.

The individual plant

One of IIoT's most intriguing promises is that there is no one model for what IIoT can do for your plant. "Plant managers recognize that change is coming, but they have other priorities right now," said Richard Kelly, a partner in McKinsey & Co.'s North American digital manufacturing practice.

At the recent Smart Factory World Symposium sponsored by FORCAM in Cincinnati, Kelly said that IIoT "is going to force a change in strategic planning. It's not about a one-off technology solution. It's not like there's a one-stop shop for technology solutions.

"Manufacturing silos, supply chain silos, IT (information technology) silos are collapsing," Kelly said. "There's no one right answer here. The right answer is very company-specific: Where does value really get created in your company?"

"The biggest challenge for smaller companies is to make a decision on which direction you should go," said Wim Huijs, president of Enginetics Aerospace, at the FORCAM event. "For small companies, most of the time, you follow your customers." For small and mid-sized manufacturers, that means looking up the supply chain to see what larger players will need in an increasingly complex and individualized manufacturing process.

"When it's all about making the widget and getting the widget out the door, where do they find the time and where do they find the capital (to change)?" asked Robert Sartin, co-chair of the automotive team at the law practice of Frost Brown Todd LLC in Cincinnati. "All the Tier 2 and Tier 3 companies are worried about is, 'How do I pay my employees to get widgets out?'"

The answer may be in finding how IIoT can deliver repeatable results for the specific needs of the factory. Kelly said the factory of the future could be different models using the same technology to achieve different goals. One model would be a high-volume, automated plant to take advantage of economies of scale. Another plant could be focused on single lots, delivering a high level of customization using technology such as additive manufacturing.

But—and there's always a "but"—Kelly pointed out the problem is not the data itself. Like Dorothy's way back to Kansas in "The Wizard of Oz," the data always has been there all along and usually has been overlooked. "Today, 90% of data disappears. It goes nowhere," he said. "All the value you can gain is from the data that isn't being used. You need to optimize the data you have before capturing more data."

The search for solutions

The success of IIoT is the development of software programs that find, capture, collate, and distribute data to plant personnel, and customize it so each person gets just what they need to be more productive. A maintenance worker doesn't need the same information that a control engineer, a line worker, or the CFO might need from a given piece of machinery, yet that machine can produce data that each might need at some point.

The reason IIoT has so rapidly become a common term is that such programs are being developed today. Traditional manufacturing vendors are being joined by such companies as Apple, Cisco, Microsoft, SAP,and Verizon,for whom manufacturing was a small blip on abig radar. Those big names are attracting smallersolution providers who can create the programs and processes that will actually drive the connection between data and workers.

At a three-day event in suburban Chicago in June, SAP conducted a series of seminars focused solely on manufacturing issues around IIoT. The event's Innovation Showcase featured more familiar names (Dell, Deloitte, IBM) and some less well-known companies focused on supplychain integration, enterprise product lifecycle management (PLM) solutions, and enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems.

At one session on reinventing manufacturing through IIoT, panelists focused on data capture and management, but also on the equally challenging issue of getting humans to connect at the same levels of speed and accuracy as the devices.

Tennant Co. is an early adopter of IIoT systems, dating back to 2009, and company CIO Paul Wellman noted at the SAP event that the challenge extended far beyond the technology to the traditional conflicts between information technology (IT) and operation technology (OT). "We were looking for more flexibility out of our operation in Pennsylvania and found that we could not make changes to operation in a timely fashion," he said. "We had to make sure this factory was flexible and able to meet the speed of business.

"There were culture shifts in IT and OT," Wellman said. "We had islands of data on the factory floor. The factory wasn't connected. Once we connected the factory, we saw how we can leverage the data."

"It's about how do we get these groups talking to each other," said Dave Gutshall, senior manager of manufacturing vertical solutions for Cisco. "It takes all levels of the organization. It can't just be an executive conversation. It has to be on the factory floor. Ask your IT folks how much time they spend on the factory floor. There need to be change agents inside the factory floor."

Getting down to basics

In a press release announcing its new software suite to address IIoT and Internet of Things (IoT) programs, Cisco offered one of the more fundamentally sound explanations of where we are with all of this connectivity:

"Cisco estimates that 50 billion devices and objects will be connected to the Internet by 2020. Yet today, more than 99% percent of things in the physical world remain unconnected. To capitalize on the unprecedented opportunities presented by this wave of digitization, companies and cities are increasingly deploying IoT solutions. However, digitization is complex.

Customers are often connecting devices and objects-or converging unrelated networks—at previously unprecedented scales. Furthermore, they can only realize the value of these connections through the application of advanced data analytics; and, even then, customers often still need to create a new class of intelligent applications capable of accelerating new business models or increasing productivity. Of course, all of this has to happen without ever sacrificing security at any point in the system, from the device to the data center and via the cloud."

In an interview with Plant Engineering, Greg Gorbach, vice president for ARC Advisory Group's IIoT business, said there are a number of daunting issues in the new age of IIoT. "Cyber-security threats are the biggest challenge, but many projects are moving forward despite this," Gorbach said. "Capital costs could potentially be a factor for small manufacturers, but that cuts both ways because IIoT also enables hybrid product-service models, where instead of buying an asset outright, the output of that asset can be had as a service, shifting the upfront capital cost into a recurring operating cost."

In that same interview with Plant Engineering, Karthik Sundaram, industry analyst for Frost & Sullivan's industrial automation and process control business in Europe, suggests the challenges are real, but so is the potential. "IIoT has the potential to disrupt supply chains, increase production efficiency, expand customization capabilities, and reduce lead times significantly," he said. "A full-blown IIoT investment by a mid-size manufacturer can bring a minimum of a 30% increase in productivity and a 25% increase in financial gains, especially through optimized (operational expenses)."

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