The benefits of an IIoT solution in a hyper-connected world
We are in the middle of the fourth industrial revolution - and potentially the one with the most far-reaching consequences. Consumers use cloud solutions every day, and now see them as part of the natural order. In the world of business, new technologies are emerging all the time that help increase productivity, eliminate errors and facilitate almost limitless connectivity.
Within manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) refers to a system of interrelated computing devices, machines and objects capable of transferring data over a network without human intervention. Historically, manufacturers - also known as ‘Makers of Things’ - have strived to increase the output of individual machines, upping their power and programming them to be more resilient and technically advanced.
Now, in the hyper-connected world, it is also about increasing these efficiencies holistically. Not only maximizing the potential of each machine individually, but also being able to use data in the cloud to drive efficiency and profitability. More than that, with no restrictions on geography or human resource, best-in-class technology and uniform processes can be rolled out to the entire organization, customer network or wider industry - the complete ecosystem. In short, the IIoT revolution is about not only looking at individual machines but understanding the bigger picture.
From the left: Axel Gustafson, Vice President Product Management and Alexander Walderhaug, Product Manager Digitalization, Beijer Electronics
In this article, we will look at:
• The concept of cloud connectivity and IIoT in the manufacturing industry
• The benefits of using operational data to drive innovation
• The importance of transparency and open source software
• The challenges faced by manufacturing organizations as they look to adopt cloud solutions
How operational data can save money, improve accuracy and generate efficiencies
Machines have always provided users with information. In the past, this has been through simple, descriptive analysis - for example: a temperature gauge indicating that a machine is overheating. As time has gone by, increased sophistication in the way data is displayed has allowed operators to react more quickly and with greater certainty to any issues or malfunctions. This has led to a new concept of ‘predictive maintenance’ where built-in alerts inform users that a certain machine is malfunctioning or operating outside its usual protocols. But only by collecting this data and adding it to wider additional information from a variety of sources can you start to realize its true power. With an IIoT solution in place, manufacturers can take the primary information from a single machine and connect it to additional data in the cloud. This not only allows them to optimize the individual machines, it can help understand how best to optimize entire processes, plan operations, predict, and eventually prescript, maintenance.
Why manufacturers need to join the hyper-connected world
The manufacturing industry has in essence been hesitant to adopt cloud-based technology. In part this is due to the logistical upheaval of often complex industrial hardware, entrenched processes, concerns about data security and a historic reliance on manpower. One exception is in automotive, with car manufacturers at the forefront of many IIoT initiatives. In a trillion-dollar industry with narrow profit margins, there is huge pressure to adopt new technologies early and create efficiencies wherever you can find them. But in other areas, manufacturers have been more reluctant to commit to this new data-driven future. These are often organizations rooted in tradition and craftsmanship, where the ‘Makers of Things’ take huge pride in the uniqueness of their engineering. In some countries, manufacturers have fallen behind the technology curve simply because it has been cheaper and easier to ‘throw people at the problem’. This has created significant disparity in the way companies operate in different parts of the world - and has made holistic technical cohesion harder to come by. But now, manufacturers are starting to realize the true power of IIoT. Research by Cloud Tech shows that overall manufacturing cloud spend grew significantly faster in 2018 than the majority of other industries.
Making operational data the foundation of your decision-making
Most companies claim to be ‘customer-focused’ - and cloud solutions are now able to deliver insights to clients on a whole new level. From a strategic point of view, it is no longer just about selling standalone machines, but also offering additional services over the lifetime of that product. Suddenly, what was once simply a piece of hardware is now collecting data that generates insights – and, ultimately, this will allow you to offer your customer much more. For machine builders employing an IIoT solution, there is the potential to deliver data insights from ALL machines - as well as data on how existing customers are using their machines - which can help to optimize solutions. This means that mistakes are suddenly as useful as successes. They all build knowledge, experience and expertise and help to build deeper relationships with your business associates.
Safety in numbers: The value of an open-source philosophy
With a multitude of services available, the biggest question for larger organizations is how to link all their data together. Increasingly, locking everything down to local systems and servers is becoming less of a priority. Most manufacturers operate across borders and require complex, multinational supply chains which expose them to vulnerabilities. Cloud services provided by established major global IT providers are far more secure and provide the highest reliability at the right price point. Why invest a fortune in securing your own data when you can do it at a fraction of the cost with high-profile IT-providers such as Microsoft or other vendors? Some organizations might be reluctant to adopt a fully cloud-based solution because they are worried about losing control of their data. But with trusted partners and best-in-class security standards, these risks are minimal. The big vendors offer the highest and most up-to-date security standards available – and deliver a multitude of benefits so you don’t need to worry about resource procurement, capacity planning, software maintenance, patching, or any aspect involved in operating or maintaining a cloud solution.
A change in mindset
As we have seen, cloud connectivity creates almost limitless opportunity for manufacturers. It simplifies everything. With access to the right information it enables you to save time, money and resources. But, to become truly digital, there also needs to be a change in mindset. There are inevitable cultural impacts within an organization, with changes to the daily routines and concerns over job security - and often it is the people, rather than technology, that provide the greatest barriers to change. People like what they know. There is sometimes a reluctance to accept new ideas if they require a completely different way of thinking. Most organizations have early adopters and those who need more convincing, but the benefits of IIoT should be clear to all. Cloud solutions help us optimize our use of technology in every aspect of our lives. It is a natural progression to have data from machines providing companies with new data-driven insights and streamlined processes. Any hesitance by manufacturers to embrace IIoT has pushed suppliers of cloud solutions to develop best-in-class functionality and security levels. The future of the manufacturing industry is in the cloud – and it is here today.
Axel Gustafson, Vice President Product Management
Alexander Walderhaug, Product Manager Digitalization