Disclosure: This post was previously published on Atos Ascent and was co-authored by Mr. Andrea Sorrentino (who wrote a significant part of the text below) – minor format and content edits have been applied to fit it to this website.
Today the manufacturing industry faces one of the biggest challenges in modern times: how to embrace the next industrial revolution. The technological disruption which has arisen from “Industry 4.0”, the current trend of automation and data exchange in manufacturing technologies, has drastically changed how we see the world today. Moreover, the highly competitive landscape poses urgent questions of change management that manufacturing companies need to address quickly.
Nowadays, in a more inter-connected world, companies need to adopt the right tools to get closer to the market and become more competitive. The manufacturing industry needs to adopt big data to innovate, to optimize their processes, and improve yields. But how should managers approach this technological revolution and work towards creating a smarter factory?
Machinery performance can now be measured with small sensors connected to the internet, monitoring where efficiency can be optimized. For example, workers will be able to foresee machinery malfunctioning, and intervene in a timely manner. Gartner’s latest forecast predicts 20.4 billion things will be connected by 2020, which will completely change the way we work in several sectors. In the meantime, machine-to-machine communication is fast becoming a reality, and the Internet of Things (IoT) represents only the first step in that process. In this post, I look at four ways in which managers in the manufacturing industry can exploit IoT solutions for commercial benefits:
1. Understand how your company can profit from IoT solutions
Industrial standards for IoT are still not clear, in part due to the wide range of flexible solutions that can be developed in any industry. Factory and operations managers need to define a series of objectives to understand how best they can benefit from connected devices. This is because while it is relatively easy to collect data, it is difficult to understand how to cluster it to avoid complexity in analysis. It is key to define first what type of data can be useful to increase efficiency, rather than trying to analyse huge amounts of data which is not necessarily relevant. By honing in on the aspects which will make the most difference to the business, in terms of profit, subsequent analysis becomes much simpler.
2. Clarify your security strategy
Security is a fundamental aspect to take into consideration when adopting any IIoT (The Industrial Internet of Things) solution. Consumers still hesitate when purchasing IoT products, in part due to safety and privacy concerns. Similarly, manufacturers are hesitant to adopt IoT solutions since data and app platforms can be subject to cyber-attacks as well. Operational processes and risks need to be coordinated around these safety issues, a topic Atos explored in their Journey 2020 report.
The IIoT is fundamentally changing the cyber-security landscape; the old logic of go-to-market quickly to gain market share over competitors does not apply anymore. Any device connected to the internet can become a weapon for hackers, and IT companies need to effectively secure their infrastructure before delivering to clients. Having real-time security analytics and a cyber-resilient system are essential when deploying IIoT solutions to protect against any potential attack.
3. Consider sustainability
Sooner rather than later, companies need to consider how they will ensure that their IoT solutions remains sustainable i.e. future proof. Their IoT strategy needs to define, among other things, what type and the expected amount of data they need and how to manage it effectively to minimize potential negative impacts. It is also crucial to understand how to manage potentially millions of connected devices, and how to build a scalable and reliable, distributed computing environment around the production factory.
Sustainability in the sense of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) also offers opportunities. It is currently one of the hottest topics in the manufacturing industry. The adoption of sustainable strategies is something many manufacturers are beginning to take into consideration, since brand reputation depends on companies working to reduce the level of emissions and waste they generate.
IIoT will enable the creation of what researchers have termed a ‘circular economy’; the concept that puts re-usability and recyclability at the center of any type of process. Through IIoT solutions, managers will be able to extend the lifespan of machinery, thus cutting energy costs. Therefore, the development of smart-factories would likely result in a more ecological manufacturing industry, thus drastically reducing the impact of industrial processes in the environment.
4. Get out of your comfort zone
The industry is still in an early stage when it comes to IIoT adoption, but some pioneers are taking steps to ensure they are future leaders of the industry 4.0 era. The opportunity is out there, and decision-makers need to act rapidly to advance in this next wave of technology change.
It is fundamental to assess your own capabilities and role within the IoT ecosystem: will you push data or will you pull data? In a push model, you need to look at the smartness of your devices and data platform. If you pull data you need to look at your data analytics capabilities so you know when to ask for data and what data you need. Companies cannot bear the risk connected to data management for the entire production chain, therefore, it is necessary to build a partner ecosystem of buyers and vendors that co-operate for creating secured, efficient and scalable end-to-end solutions, leading to real added value in the production chain.