The Connected Factory: Are Manufacturing Companies Embracing Digital Transformation?

Different Types of Technology

April 10, 2018

The Internet of Things (IoT) is enabling much more than just the smart home. In the manufacturing sector, it is providing a platform for the sector to become more efficient, productive, and predictable at the factory level.

The result of this is lower operational costs and, ultimately, profitability, presenting value that resonates from the cloud to the consumer, but there is a curve to navigate before all benefits can be realized. Digital transformation needs to occur at the manufacturing level and therein lies the challenge. As many large factories are still operating on legacy infrastructure, IoT offers a solution to large-scale replacement, but even with small-scale adoption, challenges remain.

IoT supports manufacturing in lieu of complete digital transformation

Rather than replacing existing infrastructure, IoT sensors can be deployed to monitor a range of functions, delivering data on machine performance and tracking assets as well as employees on the shop floor.

The challenge, especially for legacy companies, is that the value remains to be seen. These are organizations who have ready access to manpower and for whom upgrading to Industrial IoT (IIoT) systems would not only mean a significant expense in system upgrades but the loss of jobs, if not right away, then in the future.

Such companies may be underestimating the future value of the technology, banking on the ability of their workforce to help them remain viable, even in light of these advances. In reality, it doesn’t make a lot of sense to automate only one aspect of the process as any value gained in one area may be lost in another.

The connected factory is the future

Automating processes in the factory provides benefits that include vastly improved and more efficient processes, self-regulating optimization and configuration. Leveraging IIoT, machine learning, and artificial intelligence (AI), the connected factory can provide:

  • Machine-to-machine communiction
    • Connected machines in the factory allow them to work more efficiently together, creating efficiency and predictability.
  • Optimize the value chain
    • The connected factory is not exclusive to the factory floor. The entire value chain from incoming supplies to machine maintenance, product packaging, and shipping are optimized.
  • Operations optimization
    • With access to real-time data from every aspect of the process, leadership has a unique opportunity to improve outcomes through analysis and action.
  • Proactive machine maintenance ensures uptime
    • Monitoring machines through a central platform, companies can predict production slowdowns, production line bottlenecks, and machine failure, lowering operating costs and ensuring more uptime.
  • Remove data silos
    • With the ability to connect to the ERP, the connected factory enables strategic advances towards critical objectives. IIoT provides data streams that help other departments make decisions based on what is actually happening now, from orders to fulfillment. Departments that could benefit from access to this data include sales and marketing, finance, and HR, all entities that in the past have relied on inefficient reporting fraught with human error.

We are still a long way from a world where the connected factory is a standard in manufacturing. Even for companies who have begun their digital transformation, the data produced by IIoT connected machines is markedly underutilized. In time, however, as new factories are built and put into service, we will begin to see the value chain emerge as leaders embrace data-driven solutions.

If you would like to learn more about IIoT and the connected factory, get in touch today.

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