Business planning

The Internet of Things -Transforming discrete manufacturing

Businesswoman using tablet

As a CIO in the discrete manufacturing sector, you face a variety of challenges, such as increasing competition, resource volatility, higher customer expectations, and shorter innovation cycles. The variety of products has increased, putting more pressure on margins, supply, procurement, and indeed, overall business models.

Digital transformation could reinvigorate your manufacturing business and help you move forward in facing your challenges. Through the ‘fourth industrial revolution’, or Industry 4.0, businesses can be more productive and create new experiences with their customers through personalised and customised products and services – using technologies such as artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and additive manufacturing.

If you haven’t done so already, an area you should consider investing in is the Internet of Things (IoT). Typically, IoT in industry sees businesses embed a network of connected sensors into equipment which can transmit data in real-time.

IoT can give you a competitive advantage because it adds connectivity to components. IoT uses the data collected by physical things, such components within machines in the production line, to optimise how things are manufactured. The more information these can gather, the more you can optimise and make your manufacturing processes more effective.

IoT connectivity can create value through better quality and control, while algorithms applied to large amounts of historical and real-time sensor data can increase prediction accuracy and analysis. The advantages of this include:

  • Better insights, which drive better decision making.
  • Improved uptime from the remote monitoring and management of equipment.

You are in a great position to drive the digital change needed to introduce or make the most of IoT. Technology can be integrated into different parts of the manufacturing lifecycle, from product design and marketing to finance and factory floor. You can be a digital business leader, an advocate of technology in the boardroom, and an influential stakeholder that will be a key architect in the future of a manufacturing business.

Understand the shift to services and the circular economy

In goods-focused industries, products can be connected to the cloud. Businesses can now transition from solely selling a product to a business model where they are also offering services, creating ecosystems where even suppliers have visibility of what’s happening in the customer journey. An example could be a car manufacturer adding sensors to the vehicles they produce, which allows them to detect repair and overhaul requirements.

Also, understand that the circular economy is now within reach because of Industry 4.0. Before, we’ve been solely linear – taking resources, making products and disposing of them as waste. Now, through the fourth industrial revolution, we can look to reduce, or even eliminate waste by keeping products and materials in use for as long as possible, maintaining and refurbishing products and creating new resources from what we used to discard.

With the IoT, you can connect products you develop to the cloud, analysing performance and collecting user information. You can monitor and analyse products at a distance – creating happy customers by quickly reacting to any issues, and building products that are long-lasting and durable, which can reduce waste.

Operational efficiency and the virtual factory

To thrive, you need to strive for operational efficiency, while simultaneously reducing costs and increasing revenue growth. One of your drivers could be building mass-produced yet individually configured products, in an environment that demands rapid time-to-market and often requires last-minute order changes.

When looking at IoT for your manufacturing operation, look for capabilities such as:

  • Real-time visibility across your global manufacturing operation and supply chain.
  • Real-time visibility into inventory, quality, and compliance data.
  • Real-time updates on the status of all processes.
  • The ability to forecast and schedule the need for asset maintenance through automation.
  • The ability to integrate manufacturing and other core business systems with IoT data.

IoT will allow your business to collect data in a transparent, comprehensive, and interactive way, providing real-time visibility into the state of your assets, equipment, processes, and plant resources.

IoT is already having a positive impact on discrete manufacturing. Today you can:

  • Connect products with smart components that collect data, allowing real-time inventory checks.
  • Track the journey of raw materials and products from one place to another, enabling full traceability across the supply chain.
  • Optimise energy consumption, the use of space, and workforce productivity, helping drive out inefficiencies and reduce costs.
  • Increase equipment efficiency and help move products along the production line, ensuring compliance with regulatory standards.
  • Minimise waste by detecting flawed products quickly, supporting the circular economy and sustainability initiatives.
  • Monitor product condition during transportation, receiving real-time notifications to avoid premature and expensive maintenance costs.
  • Monitor machinery from production lines and vehicles to predict and quickly notify of issues or breakdowns.
  • Track the history of a product in the event of a safety issue, supporting quick and efficient product recalls when needed.
  • Collect and collate data from multiple sources into a single hub to provide comprehensive visibility and aid decision making.

Look at the possibilities of a strategic asset management project, digitising your assets in the production process and using IoT-based preventative and predictive maintenance to reduce downtime. Deploying IoT through the supply chain can also support end-to-end traceability helping you to mitigate risk and resolve issues quickly.

Instead of just predicting how a product should be manufactured, we’ve reached a stage where we can see how a product is being manufactured, creating a real-time, role-appropriate operational view of the entire factory floor, including processes and equipment. Anyone with the correct permissions can see this anytime and anywhere, giving them the ability to control and improve the factory.

Think about what your business can do now. Close your eyes and imagine being able to:

  • Evaluate usage patterns and the need for asset maintenance to optimise operations.
  • Manage machines, processes, and people with speed and agility with the cloud right across the world.
  • Monitor factory assets in real-time by analysing historical and current data so you can predict failures and react quickly to fix issues before they occur.
  • Use video for real-time monitoring of processes.
  • Simulate and compare the results of changing a product line with your mobile device.

As a CIO, it may be part of your job to promote the value of technology to the business. You may have to work closely with the CEO, educating the board and other C-suite executives about the benefits of IoT. By looking at possible use cases and possibly working with the CFO on the financial benefits, you can share with the board how IoT can:

  • Increase operational efficiency
  • Improve customer service
  • Support inter-departmental collaboration
  • Optimise strategic decision making
  • Raise profitability
  • Grow revenue

Finally, make sure you take on the technology that’s easy to implement, deploy, and integrate with existing systems, involving shrewd investment and use of resources. And make investments that support a shift to digital services, so you can attract and keep new customers, as well as increase profits.