IoT, Industry 4.0, finding value?
By Bill Lydon, InTech, Chief Editor
I have already attended four industry conferences in 2018, including one in Germany, and the intensity of application of Internet of Things (IoT), Industry 4.0, and related technological innovations to improve manufacturing continues to grow. Common themes presented refer to industry studies that indicate:
- applying these technologies will significantly improve productivity and quality
- manufacturing executives believe new technologies need to be implemented to remain world-class competitors
- manufacturing executives believe they have done little to apply these technologies
As I talk to industrial automation users, these themes sound reasonable. Many have told me their management groups have been asking them what the company should be doing relative to IoT and Industry 4.0-a great opportunity for automation professionals. This has empowered automation people to learn about these technologies and, in some cases, launch small pilot projects.
Vendors with new technologies to offer are certainly trying to create a sense of urgency among potential buyers to sell their products. An interesting phenomenon has been vendors asserting that they have been doing IoT for years with their existing products. Functionally this may be valid, but the implementations have been expensive, inflexible, difficult to use, and closed architectures. New IoT technologies, in contrast, are significantly less expensive and are flexible, easy to use, and open architectures.
Users I have talked with who have successfully applied new technologies first learn and understand the new technologies and then rethink manufacturing operations. The analysis reviews how new technology could be used to improve production/process flow and improve lean manufacturing methods. This leads to new ideas and applications that improve productivity, uptime, quality, other success factors.
In this new environment many higher-level management teams are getting the message that the application of technology and change are required to be successful in the future. This creates great opportunities for automation professionals to show how they can add value in the organization. Automation professionals applying good system analysis to understand their manufacturing and process are in the best position to propose applications leveraging new technologies.
Creating proposals for small pilot projects to determine the value of new technology and concepts is a good way to accomplish this. Key points in a pilot project proposal:
- problem to be addressed or improvement desired
- goal(s) of the pilot project
- technology to pilot
- questions to be answered by the execution of the pilot project
- pilot project description
- resources needed
- cost/benefits analysis
- projection of benefits if successful and broadly deployed
In addition to their day-to-day functions, helping the organization move forward and improve is an important way automation professionals contribute value.