What do you need to know before you connect your manufacturing floor to the Industrial Internet of Things?
As consumers shift their buying habits from products to experiences, should businesses change their operating models as well? Well, if your organization wants to be able to innovate in an effective way, the answer is yes. As part of your short-term and long-term planning, you need to make it easier for employees to leverage technology and data to create products that are fine-tuned to the experiences consumers want.
Part of this process starts right in the manufacturing plant. While historically, this industry has been a data-dry sector, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is enabling more companies to perform predictive machine maintenance and gain insight into operations.
However, transitioning to a fully fledged smart factory takes planning. Here’s where to start when creating a connected manufacturing experience.
Identify what data you want to acquire
Even in today’s connected age, it’s not just enough to collect data for the sake of collecting data. Though software programs have evolved so organizations can curate specific types, dimensions and metrics of data to improve operations. Before you start upgrading any hardware, examine processes or products that you want to improve with iterative design or instant feedback. These focus groups can help you truly develop a strategy instead of blindly investing and gathering data that isn’t actually useful.
For manufacturing performance, beneficial areas to monitor with the IoT include machine power status, system health, any equipment malfunctions and production speed.
Figure out where you need to upgrade
After you’ve decided what data you want to collect, identify what hardware and machinery will help you collect it, and which pieces are better if they remain unconnected. Not only will this be more efficient, but it can help reduce initial investment costs, and won’t cause unnecessary work. Plus, while some factories may have a portion of their machines connected or “smart,” it still isn’t the status quo to have everything in a manufacturing plant be a part of a network.
Sensors and hardware
Building a web for the Industrial Internet of Things requires connectivity. Even though some companies have advanced sensor placement so that it can be manufactured right into the metal, it’s still not something that’s mainstream. Currently, the industry standard are sensors that attach to machines and broadcast over an IoT-compatible network technology.
Before installing these on the factory floor, target any environmental concerns — such as temperature or moisture — that would affect sensor performance. You’ll also need to consider how to integrate internet connectivity in a way that can ensure a constant, strong connection.
Beyond machine needs, see what software also needs to be upgraded to not only collect data, but help employees use the data and make any necessary changes to the manufacturing setup. With this in mind, any new program should be evaluated for ease of use, since that is integral for a successful integration.
As a part of planning, be sure to estimate the number of employees that will need to use the software, and how they access it. Particularly in a manufacturing setting, just installing a program on a desktop is not sufficient enough — employees need to be able to access their data through mobile devices and cloud technologies, too.
Throwing a bunch of new technology into a manufacturing environment and expecting it to work will not produce an effective upgrade process. From a business standpoint, construct a time frame for technology integration, and define the different stages of connectivity that you want to see over a specific period. By slowly bringing on machines to an IIoT network, operations engineers and floor staff can work through any potential setbacks and help maintain the hardware throughout integration.
As your organization continues to work on building a network of smart manufacturing machines, train employees and engineers on how to use specific programs, leverage manufacturability within designs.
As more technology emerges, it is going to be harder for manufacturing companies to stay out of data collection. Though with more hardware and programs, IIoT organizations will increasingly make it easier to quickly integrate a connected ecosystem and see the benefits through design, maintenance and process optimization.