Industrial IoT: A Hype or Reality for Manufacturers?

Keeping pace with the evolving world of technology is hard. New technological advancements like the Industrial IoT, are realized every year. All these makes it even more confusing for top business executives and manufacturers to reconcile how they can use these new inventions to their advantage. In fact, for some, they are not even aware of how these inventions or advancements in technology will affect their businesses.

The case is not any different when considering Industry 4.0 or the Industrial Internet of Things. Just a few have heard of these two terms while a vast majority are on the verge of being pushed out of business by those who have adopted the technological advancements.

To some, industry 4.0 and Industrial Internet of Things are just some hyped terms. There’s also the group of manufacturers who’ve definitely heard of these tech revelations but are not yet decided whether they are worthy investments or another hype that will soon die down. All they sing and dance every time is the fact that manufacturing is all about manufacturing high-quality goods and at the most cost-effective way possible.

So, how are things in the industry today?

Here’s the Disconnected Reality

A closer look into the current manufacturing plants in the U.S. shows that a good number are more than 20 years old yet only 14% of the machines these companies run on the manufacturing floors are “connected.” Being connected in this regard means that machines should have sensors or monitoring tools that are able to extract data about these machines, especially on how they are operating. This is the story across most of the old manufacturing plants.

And the downside of it all is that these unmonitored machines (old) are prone to operational stalling which translates to up to $50 billion in revenue loss and repairs.

The hype that’s been created about the Industrial IoT has created a false picture in the minds of many manufacturers that they have to immediately invest in these transformational technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence or augmented reality so that they can enjoy the efficiency benefits brought about by these technologies.

That’s an entirely misguided understanding and is far from the actual reality that every manufacturer should grasp as early as possible. The fact is that though it’s necessary to initiate the “connected” foundation to mine and leverage data, it’s not possible or even wise to execute an overnight overhaul of the current infrastructure.

Steps need to be made. There’s no doubt about that. Only that it needs to start by leveraging the obvious; cloud-based platforms. These platforms have allowed many manufacturers to focus on Industrial IoT business drivers and move steps up building on the initial successes.

But then, there’s a Problem with Data in Manufacturing.

Data is at the core of these technological innovations and is also the major problem with these manufactures in trying to get connected. Getting data from the old machines is a huge problem.

Because most of these machines were manufactured back in the days, they do not have the requisite digital controllers or in some cases, require external retrofitting and sensors to extract operational data from them.

Of course, this is not an easy task to undertake, let alone being very expensive. Unless there’s a clear return identified before the commissioning of the data extraction process from these machines, it may likely be that most companies will focus only on the most critical equipment that may have shown some problematic tendencies in the past. In some cases, they will also focus on such type of equipment that represents a critical control point that would otherwise affect the delivery of services or products.

The other problem that follows all the hassle to extract data from the old machines is what to do with the data. Raw data makes very little to no sense unless it’s analyzed in a proper way and interpreted for business sense.

Raw data needs data scientists to work the magic with it and provide the correct interpretation, something which most manufacturers don’t have.

Industrial IoTAlso, out of mere ignorance, the manufacturers who have access to big data have created another hype about being able to transform their business because they have access to big data. The truth of the matter is that digitization around an asset only helps lay the foundation for understanding the asset’s environment and what’s going on with it.

For best results, there needs to be a way to visualize this data and make it actionable. Only those that can do this, can brag about having achieved something in this regard.

So, what’s the Reality of the Industrial IoT Today?

As some already have it, the primary mission of manufacturing is nothing but making high-quality products at cost-effective means. But, with Industrial IoT, this is even better. IIoT means leveraging the capital that is already available, by uncovering opportunities and ideas for development.

For the more awakened manufacturers, their goal has shifted to gaining visibility into the assets that they already have and at the same time, seeking for ways to improve their operational frequency by merely understanding what’s going on their shop floors.

These manufacturers have realized the secret, and are simply monitoring the historical trendiness to diagnose, learn, and improve performance and uptime for their machines.

If they can identify the trends that could positively disrupt their operations or quality performance, then that’s where they will throw their efforts and concentration.

Take home

If you are a leading manufacturer trying to bury the head in the sand and hope that the IIoT turns out to be a hype and die off, then it’s time you wake up to reality. The same happened with consumer companies that ignored the internet.

The way forward for any forward-thinking manufacturer is to start laying the foundation for the adoption of Industrial IoT and start implementing the concept of the connected machine and leverage the power of IIoT now.