Aircrafts that can be 'made' by robotic tools, elevators that 'ask' for repairs, trucks capable of alerting their drivers for maintenance work and bespoke haircare products that are customised by fragrance and composition on the assembly line according to individual customers' needs-these incredulous developments that once belonged firmly in the realm of sci-fi have crossed over to the real world due to the rapid adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT). According to a 2017 IDC forecast, the manufacturing sector is projected to invest USD 189 billion in 2018 on IoT solutions, topping all industries in spend on the emerging technology.
The rapid pace at which digital disruptions are altering the marketplace for manufacturing companies and the effect that the next-gen technology is having on consumers are responsible for the projection.
Empowered by smart devices and connectivity, customers and end-users have moved to occupy centre stage of nearly every industry's ecosystem. For the manufacturing industry, this has meant the imperative to provide efficient, cost-effective and iterative products and services that are agile enough to meet the evolving needs of their target audience.
Getting agile to boost efficiency
Some manufacturing firms are meeting these new requirements by offering to deliver more. Equipment and machinery manufacturing companies that have been known to offer its customers technology to track and monitor their fleets are now offering customers the enhanced capability to predict and prevent equipment and fleet breakdown.
As digital disruption paves the way for the entry of agile, tech-driven startups, it is incentivising big, established manufacturing companies to rewire their business models. Many are doing this by adopting IoT as a prominent enabler. The world's leading aircraft manufacturer, Airbus, for example, is said to be creating its Factory of the Future by introducing IoT in its factory floor. Workers use smart glasses to scan the outer shell of an Airbus to assess the force and the kind of bolt needed, which could be about 400,000 for every aircraft. Robotic tools then step in to complete the task started by the Airbus worker. In this way Airbus is being able to expedite the assembly of its aeroplanes faster, with greater reliability and efficiency.
As consumers are increasingly spoilt for choice, the pressure on manufacturing firms is growing. Whether by providing greater efficiency or lowering costs, each is vying to establish its claim to a unique value proposition and is finding a reliable ally in IoT.
Moving to a proactive approach
Thousands of elevators manufactured by the ThyssenKrupp Elevator company for example are benefiting from the deployment of an IoT-enabled predictive maintenance solution. The solution helps technicians spot problems in the elevators before they even have a chance to occur.
It is evident then that IoT has the unique ability to provide companies with detailed, real-time data and insights they need to run lean operations in a cost-efficient manner while meeting the needs of their customers and end users.
When companies apply IoT across the entire manufacturing value chain they help bridge the gap between IT and OT or operational technology systems. This paves the ground for the company-wide adoption of IoT which provides firms with information and insights on how to:
- Monitor shop floor operations in real time
- Assess, minimise or effectively manage projected risk
- Protect costly, capital-intensive assets through timely warnings on possible breakdowns
- Improve safety for its workforce as well as its machines and plants by automating potentially dangerous or harmful processes
- Improve the quality of the finished product from real-time insights
- Bolster the entire manufacturing value chain right from procurement processes to the shop floor to manufacturing operations to the supply chain
- Enhance energy efficiency
- Help identify new revenue streams by offering products 'as a service'
With these benefits in hand, manufacturing companies can offer better quality and timely deliveries at lower costs to their clients.
The road ahead
However, there are a few challenges that manufacturing firms must overcome to access and make the most of IoT's many business benefits. First among these is the need to integrate IT and OT. Manufacturers tend to see them as two disparate systems. But unless they manage and 'marry' the two, they will not be able to leverage IoT.
Second is the need for firms to plan how to make the best of new technology while protecting old investments.
Third is to reskill every company's workforce to be comfortable with the new technology's requirements with the senior leadership and HR leading from the front.
Fourth is mastering the art of interoperability. National and international standards are continuously evolving. In such a scenario, manufacturing firms need to be well acquainted with standard requirements to function in an increasingly global world.
And fifth is addressing concerns about security - the dangers posed by interconnectivity both in the physical realm and in cyber-space. Companies need to have firm plans in place to assess and address any issue emerging from security threats made possible by the openness and interconnectivity that IoT engenders.
I am certain, that given the business benefits IoT promises in the manufacturing industry, those who prepare themselves to ride its wave can be sure of moving ahead. So, acquaint yourself with what you need and hook your company to IoT's transformative power.