Internet of Things, IOT, Smart Manufacturing, Industry 4.0…Where Do I Even Start?

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Author: Chad Flesher

The manufacturing world is constantly evolving and it seems you are hearing the terms Smart Manufacturing, IoT, and Industry 4.0 everywhere you turn.  If you are like a lot of folks in the manufacturing vertical you are more than likely unsure what is real and what is hype.  Also, you might be thinking, I have a 125,000 square foot manufacturing floor with multiple lines, where would I even start?  All of it may seem overwhelming, but rest assured it is not necessary to automate all at once.  As a wise man once said, “You eat an elephant one bite at a time.”  Which is exactly how you should begin your journey to leverage smart manufacturing initiatives within your organization by starting with a digital experiment.

 There are 3 key steps to a successful digital experiment.

  1. Identify a Specific Use Case/Business Case
  2. Connect & Collect Data from Equipment
  3. Monitor Data in Real-Time

When identifying a use case/business case it is important to identify one that will not only help ensure a relevant digital experiment but can also lay a foundation for your team to socialize to upper management the value a full-scale rollout can bring to the business.  Also, keep your use case relatively simple and focus on just one or two data points that are the most pertinent to driving efficiencies.  Remember the intent of the digital experiment is to quickly and cost-effectively prove the concept.

Once you have identified your use case you can then move on to deciding what data makes the most sense to capture.  For example, when the conveyor goes down what is the key point of failure on that piece of equipment?  Can you identify certain characteristics of the conveyor that are typical prior to failure?  Does it vibrate more, does it have issues holding power, does it run at a higher temperature?  Once you have pinpointed that characteristic you can then select a sensor that can capture that data and assess how you can connect that sensor to your desired destination (cloud, database, etc.). 

Now that you are able to connect and collect data, the next step is to format that data into a user-friendly interface.  Once you have the dashboard in place you will have a central location to view a live data stream that gives you a real-time look at your equipment.   The dashboard will allow you to visualize any anomalies with your equipment, which will allow you to react quickly to any potential failures. In summary, the digital experiment is designed to demonstrate that you can cost-effectively and quickly connect equipment from your manufacturing floor to a data repository and monitor your equipment in real-time.  I am sure you have heard about the magic of artificial intelligence and how by leveraging AI you can build predictive models that can decrease unplanned downtime and increase operational efficiencies.  Artificial intelligence can certainly help you recognize those benefits, but the first step in that journey is eating the elephant one bite at a time and that first bite is a successful digital experiment.

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