Is Your Team Ready for IIoT?

How to prepare for the coming Industrial Internet of Things revolution.

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Take heed, there’s a revolution in the offing and we had best be prepared. No, I haven’t gone completely off my rocker. No, I haven’t been watching too many reruns of Doomsday Preppers on National Geographic.

The revolution of which I speak will take place in industry, and it will change everything.

Call it the Industrial Internet of Things (a.k.a. IIoT), Industry 4.0 or Cyber-Physical Systems; the truth is we are entering the Fourth Industrial Revolution—and I have seen its effects first-hand.

I introduced the topic of Industry 4.0 and IIoT in the August 2016 edition of Never Finished. Since then, the topic seems to have morphed from little known buzz-words into a full-on tidal wave, my predictions proving correct. Thus, the time has come for forward thinking finishers to move their focus from understanding that Industry 4.0 is coming to figuring out how to prepare.

In an IIoT world, all of our equipment will be networked together, gathering an abundance of real-time data that will be used to operate entire production systems, often with little or no human interaction. Cutting edge manufacturers today already employ the latest in IIoT technology. 

Sensor-laden robots gather countless data about performance and prior downtime incidents and then utilize that data to predict their own future component failures. They then order their own replacement parts before a failure ever occurs. Automated Guided Vehicles (AGVs) retrieve raw inventory, deliver it to robots that place the raw material onto finishing lines and later retrieve coated parts and hand them to the AGVs, which then deliver them to the next operation. Sensors, computers and networks gather data about non-conforming production parts and utilize that data to suggest changes to the manufacturing process to improve first-pass yield.

Yes, the Fourth Industrial Revolution is already here. Finishers wishing to capitalize on the revolution will require a new level of knowledge, aptitude and discipline in four key areas.

  1. Understanding Throughput: The ability to understand a basic throughput equation and how throughput is affected by machine speed, setup time, white time between operations, first-pass yield and the like is fundamental to succeeding in a cyber-physical plant. Yet it amazes me the number of people in finishing whom an understanding of manufacturing throughput escapes them. These concepts are nothing new; if members of your team still struggle to comprehend throughput, insist that they read Eliyahu Goldratt’s The Goal.
  2. Jacks of all Trades: Gone are the days of equipment specialists. Take for instance a team member who knows everything there is to know about a PLC driving hoist line, but little else. The lines between finishing operations—and even departments such as fabrication, machining, assembly and coatings—become increasingly grey as information and manufacturing technology integrate them. The finishing operation of the future requires team members that can work fluidly across myriad industrial equipment and technology.
  3. Networking and Control Systems: Manufacturing technology will evolve relatively quickly to where every device has its own IP address. This will create what has been called a Hyper-connected Smart System of Systems, where endless streams of data are collected. A working understanding of this interconnectivity includes necessary tools like fieldbus, Human-Machine Interfaces (HMIs), Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs), Ethernet, Profinet, sensors, actuators, electric motors, solenoids, pumps, switches, lights, contactors and valves. As these interconnected systems will comprise some of the most coveted of a manufacturer’s intellectual property, and essentially provide a road-map for its entire manufacturing process, a team member’s understanding of his or her role in maintaining IT Security will be paramount.
  4. Inform-Actionable Data: We live in a world of so-called Big Data. With all of the aforementioned technology gathering information about literally everything, we swim in a sea of facts, figures and numbers that grow exponentially deeper as time marches on. I read a statistic not long ago that, thanks to the Internet of Things, 90 percent of the data that exists on earth today has been created in the last two years. Given this reality, the challenge of the finisher will not be a lack of data, but too much of it. Collecting, scrubbing, discerning and analyzing this information will be fundamental in our ability to improve performance and process. As a result, industrial maintenance, factory automation, IT and accounting will no longer be individual departments or teams, but will become members of the same team whose charter is to drive enterprise-wide performance improvements using the tools now afforded them by the advent of cyber-physical systems.

 

The Industrial Internet of Things, while exciting and scary, has already begun. During my visits in the last year to advanced manufacturers across the globe, I have seen technology at work that has blown me away. Entire plants comprising hundreds of thousands of square feet produce production parts 24/7 while employing a dozen or so people. What’s even more amazing is the advanced manufacturing, technology and data management skills held by the individuals employed.

Is your team ready?

 


Originally published in the May 2017 issue.