Embracing the Internet of Things (IoT) in Manufacturing

September 11, 2015


What is the Internet of Things (IoT)?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the network of physical objects accessed through the Internet. Simply put it’s objects that were previously not connected that are now available and connectable via a network.


Why does it matter?

Every day the IoT is connecting new objects, everything from your thermostat to your parking meter is now networked to the internet. Many of these objects contain embedded technology that allows them to observe their environment and report back, for example your thermostat lets you know that the temperature in your house is 16 degrees while you are at the office, this allows you to then decide to turn on the furnace. The power of IoT is in providing you data in context in a timely manner so that you can make a decision.

Now let us look at the manufacturing. Traditional proprietary networks are becoming less common and there has been an explosion of IP devices installed. This includes a variety of new, never before accessible data points that can be leveraged to provide tremendous business value. These data points can be used to provide the ability for real time information, better decision making and a truly integrated architecture. Some of the devices that are being connected by best in class manufacturers include sensors, actuators, VFDs, cameras and RFID readers. Enabling the IoT enables you to deploy Smart Manufacturing, that is the application of manufacturing intelligence to every aspect of your business – from the plant floor to the boardroom, this is where the benefits of improved efficiency, safety, uptime and cost savings come from. In order reach Smart Manufacturing we need to start by bringing the concept of IoT into our environments.

How do I prepare for the IoT?

From a practical standpoint, manufacturing introduces a significant challenge. There is a huge number of data points and information and it can be daunting to decide what information with which context will provide value. As this landscape continues to expand companies must justify return on investment for deploying IoT. Here are a few initial steps that we should take when considering the future landscape of the IoT.

1. Work with, not against your own company

It is crucial to have involvement and agreement on your overarching strategy from each of the stakeholders. Many will create a CoE (Center of Excellence) with the members having the responsibility to represent their division on strategic decision making in the integrated manufacturing space. This will ensure that each division (Operations, Engineering, IT, Quality, Executive, etc) will have the appropriate connectivity and regulatory control over all initiatives in the space

2. Understand where you are today so you can plan for tomorrow

It’s always best to see where you are and evaluate how you got there.   Even if your network has been thought out, it can be a good idea to get a third party expert to have a look and confirm you are on the right path, basically a network “Readiness” assessment. This can be used as a part of a value stream map and/or the basis for a Manufacturing Transformation Strategy that will help guide you to your eventual goals.

3. Link enterprise and plant floor networks, securely

Get everyone comfortable with this concept. Plant floor information can be shared with the Enterprise network (ERP). It’s happening everywhere, it’s needed to be able to find true costs, plan for it.

4. Prepare the existing infrastructure

It is important to evaluate the physical infrastructure. There are usually areas of opportunity in both the field connectivity as well as the data center. Aligning the physical infrastructure design with the logical will ensure there are minimal disruptions as the number of connected devices increases over time.

5. Training

It is essential to train the plant maintenance team so that they can understand how to interact with and interpret the data provided by the equipment. This can include both teaching of IP networking as well as providing knowledge around your specific data collection and reporting tools.

6. Define strategies for influx of devices early

It is important to plan for the influx of new IP devices so that you can prepare rather than react, this involves developing device management polices, endpoint management policy, a routing strategy etc.

7. A few things to remember include:

  • Planning virtualization as part of OpEx/Expense budget
  • Providing vendors with clear, concise equipment standards that include the definition of device requirements
  • Embracing industry standards and best practices such as those from Mesa and ISA 99.
  • Creating and executing against a Manufacturing Transformation Strategy (MTS)

Finally, remember that obsolescence will continue

The life cycle of equipment in manufacturing can be very long. Typical asset life cycles are often planned on 10 to 15 years while the computing assets attached to them are typically 3-5 years. Understanding this and ensuring that the full cost of ownership of assets is planned, including support, will allow for businesses to have the required capital to handle mid-asset life costs. This, in addition to a policy and strategy for legacy migration will allow for the alignment of both new and existing assets in your infrastructure in the future.

The above steps are a few of the stages involved in the process of adapting your manufacturing process to welcome the Internet of Things (IoT).

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