In Part 1 of this series I described 4 big trends affecting manufacturing and pointed out the challenges and opportunities with each of them, at a high level. The 4 big trends are the Internet of Things (IoT), Big Data, Cloud Computing and Industry 4.0.

The technologies related to these trends are available today. Like the Good Witch tells Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz , “You’ve always had the power to go back to Kansas”…or, in our case, take full advantage of the opportunities these trends support. Instead of clicking your heels together though, there are a number of steps to take to realize business benefits.

In this article I am going to describe these steps and also present some ideas of how the 4 big trends might be used by forward thinking organizations.

Step 1 – Move from Ad Hoc to Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure

The first thing to do is make sure your network is well-designed and that it lets you scale-up dramatically, easily and reliably. If you’re like most, you’ve been moving to industrial Ethernet and away from fieldbuses. You’ve found Ethernet to be big, fast, and pretty forgiving.

Chances are, however, that your network has grown ad-hoc but just keeps working. As your network grows, you’ll need to evolve to a design that includes segmentation, security and redundancy in the right places, along with easy network management and expansion.

For more information on this, see my Automationworld article “Here’s Your Sign … That It May be Time to Turn Your Ad Hoc Network Into a Real Infrastructure”. Also, Belden resources for helping with this are listed at the bottom of this article.

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Just like Dorothy could always go back to Kansas, there is no reason not to start taking advantage of the 4 big trends. The technology to support them is available today. Photo courtesy of Profiles in History

Step 2 – Expect Cost Savings and Use Them to Justify “Big Idea” Projects

You don’t need to work very hard to find hard cost savings from using a well-designed Industrial Ethernet Infrastructure. You’ll quickly be able to realize savings from:

  • Fewer spares
  • Less training
  • Less support

But don’t forget to add in soft cost savings resulting from aspects such as:

  • Less paper
  • More accurate work
  • More timely response
  • Other business  and process efficiencies

All together cost savings, productivity improvements and doing what you do better and faster should justify projects related to the 4 big trends.

Step 3 – Dream up “Big Ideas” that Could Radically Improve Business

To do this, you need to think way beyond cost savings, or your department or job function.

If your company could have ultimate intelligence, in the blink of an eye, from anywhere in the world with the ability to change what you’re doing or how you’re doing it on a dime, what would you do?

Take whatever you’re thinking about now and think exponentially bigger. If you’re not that kind of thinker, grab some people who are, take them out of their current box and get them to think the big thoughts.

Here are some ideas to help you get going…

Brainstorming: Internet of Things

The IoT is about a lot of industrial devices networked together, allowing for better information quicker. This is not about having real-time information from sensors and actuators – that has been standard in industry for about 20 years.

This is about having information from disparate sources, some of which are in the factory and some of which are outside of it, available at your fingertips.

For example, let’s say you have trouble with a machine. Imagine that you could troubleshoot the problem using data not just from sensors, actuators, PLCs etc. from also from drawings, videos and help text. Now add in information from patches and updates from the Internet, plus voice and video connections with the machine building company and other remote resources.

Now what other problems could be solved faster by being able to bring together a wide variety of information quickly?

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If car production goes down, taking advantage of better, faster ways to troubleshoot problems provides a payback and justifies investment in projects related to the 4 big trends.

Brainstorming: Big Data

Like many manufacturers, you are already pulling together a lot of data, but you struggle to understand it. It is also likely difficult to act on it or determine how it relates to your business challenges. Now imagine that you can have any set of information at your fingertips (backed up by incredible analytics technology). What would you do with it?

For example, could it be used to provide super customized products for customers, based on market trends and sales / demand data? Or, what if you could share trend and other data in real-time, directly with customers, have them decide what they want made, then make it and delivery it really fast?

What if algorithms could be applied to big data that would allow you to smooth out production? What benefits would that give you?

Big data can be used to accelerate business by quickly matching production with demand. What do you dream about being able to do in this area?

Brainstorming: Cloud Computing/Storage

Cloud Storage is about storing data elsewhere than the computer beside you. If stored offsite, you can obtain access to the data from anywhere at any time. This access can be compelling because it puts data storage, backup, security etc. in the hands of others with specialized expertise and allows you to focus on your core manufacturing competencies.

As I mentioned in Part 1, for manufacturers this is applicable for storing information like drawings and machine or process information. While cloud computing is also possible, real time control using the cloud at this time has significant risks for many industrial applications. Be sure to proceed with caution in this area and ensure that all performance, availability and security concerns are addressed.

Now, with information available anywhere anytime, what advantages can you gain from that? Does it enable closer collaboration between different facilities? Can it connect you closer to your customers?

Brainstorming: Industry 4.0

The concept behind Industry 4.0 is to challenge your organization to work differently and to innovate, given the new technologies available now.

For example, can your manufacturing be done using green energy sources, or can power requirements be reduced? Can you operate in a much smaller footprint or greatly improve speed or throughput to your existing footprint? Can your manufacturing be done in such a way that you can change outputs on a dime?

How Can Today’s Technology Dramatically Improve Your Business?

While some of the technologies I’ve described can add complexity & cost, they all possess the potential to do the opposite if applied to real business challenges. Further, you can be assured that taking the first step of improving network infrastructure will have a payback and put you in position to take advantage of the 4 big trends.

Next come up with the big ideas and start planning projects. Tie investments to specific goals that will result in cost savings with a big upside, then gain project approval.

Now drive boldly forward to realize incredible improvements and change how your company performs!

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