The majority of manufacturers have yet to implement an IoT strategy in their operations—here’s a guide to help in that quest.

Whether known as Industrie 4.0 or some other label, the global push for smart manufacturing is underway for good reason. By providing greater connectivity across a manufacturing enterprise and the ability to act on production intelligence, smart manufacturing offers nearly unlimited opportunities for manufacturers to improve their operations, create new value, and respond to challenges such as the skilled-labor shortage.

For example, manufacturers use embedded machinery intelligence to predict equipment failures and improve productivity. By using remote-access capabilities to monitor multiple machines simultaneously from a centralized location, they can better utilize labor. They are extending this greater connectivity and information sharing outside their production walls to better track and coordinate supply-chain activities. And through the use of contemporary cloud technologies, they are able to change business models and build new revenue streams.

However, most manufacturer still have much work ahead of them. Only 11% of manufacturers have implemented a strategy to apply IoT technologies to production processes, according to a recent survey by The MPI Group; and about half of manufacturers said they are still struggling with the basics of defining and implementing an IoT strategy.

Adoption of key enabling technologies is an essential part of a smart-manufacturing approach. This includes leveraging the IoT, an ever-growing proliferation of connected smart devices, to better understand quality, efficiency, security, and safety. It also involves the strategic use of cloud computing, mobility, and data analytics.

Manufacturers seeking to build and implement IoT connected systems in support of a smart-manufacturing deployment in their operations should focus on the following four core tactics:

1. Increasing Quality and Productivity

Manufacturers use embedded machine or equipment intelligence to monitor virtually every product specification in real time, either from a customer or regulatory perspective. More than that, they use this intelligence to rapidly address product defects and variations as they happen, ensure quality goals are met, and improve customer satisfaction. Better control and transparency of manufacturing processes via embedded intelligence also creates new opportunities to improve productivity.

2. Improving Decision-Making

Better decision-making begins with working data capital. However, most manufacturers have older systems in place that will need to be updated for the next generation of productivity. Manufacturers that have taken these steps and armed themselves with better information are using it to optimize their assets, improve their responsiveness to changing customer needs, refine work flows, and reduce inventory.

3. Establishing Safe and Reliable Operations

The most obvious opportunities will include replacing the obsolete and isolated automation systems that have exceeded their lifespans, are difficult to connect, and are no longer supported by their manufacturer. However, manufacturers also should define new requirements based on past performance in areas such as employee injuries, machinery downtime, and work stoppages. From there, they can prioritize processes and equipment for redesign, including considering the use of embedded intelligence to gather real-time data.

4. Securing the Infrastructure

Greater information availability and more connection points may introduce greater risk to manufacturing environments in the form of internal and external threats. Decades-old devices and controls on the plant floor can be more susceptible to breaches through both malicious attacks and unintentional employee actions.

Manufacturers must employ a comprehensive, defense-in-depth approach that establishes security safeguards at different layers to stop threats on multiple fronts. A robust and secure network infrastructure should be built on standard and unmodified Ethernet, which has become the industry preference for security purposes.

Smart manufacturing offers nearly unlimited potential, and it all begins with establishing an IoT connected system as the foundation for achieving greater connectivity and information sharing.

>>Read more by Beth Parkinson, Machine Design, September 23, 2016

The Road to Smart Manufacturing