Turning Obstacles Into Opportunities With Manufacturing IoT

The advent of IoT is transforming industries across the spectrum, but its impact is perhaps greatest within manufacturing sectors. Manufacturing has always relied on interconnected systems, but because of tech limitations, it has been possible to assess only the entire forest — not each individual tree.

IoT is changing this by connecting individual machines and subsystems to broader networks for the purposes of monitoring and data sharing. Instead of operating in the shadows, the impact each piece of the puzzle has on overall productivity, efficiency, and profitability is immediately apparent.

But, manufacturers of all sizes have been hesitant to embrace the full potential of IoT.  Why?

  • Cost — Depending on the size of the manufacturing infrastructure, the investment necessary to fully take advantage of IoT can seem prohibitive — or even reckless — as the time required to realize ROI often appears impossible to forecast.
  • Disruption — Manufacturers wonder whether an IoT implementation will force them to temporarily suspend or scale back operations. The ongoing maintenance and monitoring of these new technologies becomes a giant question mark, and frequent network sunsets raise legitimate longevity concerns.
  • Culture — Manufacturing is a sector traditionally used to incremental changes and is traditionally averse to experimental strategies.  The sudden appearance of IoT was met with suspicion.

Why IoT in Manufacturing Is Imperative

With data generated from connected equipment, metrics can be analyzed to optimize every aspect of the supply chain. With this real-time information, maintenance can be performed predictively to limit downtime.

Tracking is also greatly improved. Loss, theft, and misuse can virtually be eliminated, giving resource managers much more accurate and in-depth views of their available resources.

IoT creates business opportunities. Data monetization is a growing field that tech giants such as IBM are digging deeply into, helping manufacturers profit from the gigantic amounts of data they collect through IoT technology.

Because manufacturing relies on thin margins and operates within hypercompetitive markets, the only way to gain an advantage is to look for every possible process improvement. IoT enables that to an extent never possible before.

As more and more companies learn to leverage the intrinsic value of data, the holdouts are forced to operate from a position of weakness and vulnerability.

How Do You Know Whether You’re Ready?

• Where do we start? The first step is to analyze your specific needs and identify the benefits of fulfilling them. That will shed light on the type of IoT implementation you require and the kinds of returns you can expect. Focus on both the application layer and your connectivity requirements, and be sure to prioritize solutions with long-term utility.

• Who is going to manage this? IoT is a tech solution with enterprise wide implications. Obviously, your IT team will play a central role, but input and oversight is also required from your product groups, financing department, logistics providers, and others. Create multifunctional management groups populated with a diverse range of stakeholders.

• How much will this cost? That will depend entirely on the size and scope of your implementation. The key is to get cost forecasts from experts over an extended timeline. Be aware, too, that costs and returns are closely linked. A threadbare implementation will often saddle you with unexpected costs down the road.

• What kind of ROI can we expect? Again, this will depend on the nature of your implementation. Operational savings can range anywhere from 10 percent to well in excess of 50 percent, and most implementations pay for themselves in less than five years. A thorough cost-benefit analysis will reveal more definite figures.

>>Read more by John Horn, Manufacturing Business Technology, November 2016