Open letter to manufacturing management regarding IoT
By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor
Virtually every industry publication, business consulting group, and event presentation discuss how the Internet of Things (IoT) is a game changer that will enable companies to create new business models. This poses a threat to many manufacturing companies from existing or new players that will use the technology to be more competitive. Companies such as Uber, Airbnb, and Nest (Thermostat) are cited as examples. The implication is these technologies can be used to create more efficient and effective manufacturing methods.
These concepts are also described by Industry 4.0 and Industry 4.0 for Process initiatives that leverage technologies, including IoT. The “4.0” refers to this being the fourth industrial revolution, following the third revolution of the assembly line, which was first implemented on a large scale by Henry Ford. Henry Ford pioneered using the assembly line to drive down costs and deliver products to a wider range of people with uniformity; you could have any color car as long as it was black. Over time that changed, and automobiles were available with a wide range of options. Ford had highly fixed production machines and systems providing an efficiency advantage. Later competitors eventually responded using more flexible and efficient manufacturing methods, offering more colors and options. Today many automotive manufacturing plants have invested in flexible production systems that allow them to make rapid changeovers. For example, Ford has engine lines that can make changes in a few hours using flexible machine designs to produce different engine configurations that used to take weeks.
The possibilities of new ways to compete with different business models, manufacturing methods, and automation is a potential game changer in most, if not all, industries.
Simply refining automation systems and existing manufacturing methods may not ensure a company is competitive in the future. This is the time for management to pull together multifunctional teams to consider the possible competitive game changers in their industries. Automation professionals are a great resource who should be a key part of this team, contributing knowledge, know-how, and experience. I have talked with enlightened companies doing this today using their own internal resources, since they consider this such a competitive success factor.
Times of dramatic change can be dangerous, and the only leveling factor is informed people who understand the business, possess subject matter knowledge, and apply clear logic.