Smart Factories: Beyond the IoT hype

Smart Solutions

Smart Factories: Beyond the IoT hype

Thanks to IoT, managers have a tremendous opportunity to improve operations through productivity, quality, and flexibility. Making the most of them requires more effective connectivity and information flow between all the various data-generating and data-consuming devices, processes, systems, and people within the organization.

by Gordon Feller

Manufacturing plants are running at a much higher utilization capacity than ever before. Often, it is a 24-hour a day, seven days a week operation. With downtime costing plants up to $20,000 a minute, they simply cannot afford disruption to their processes.

Manufacturers face multiple challenges. They need increased flexibility in their manufacturing process to meet their evolving consumer demand and global landscape. They have constant pressure on them to keep up with ramping demands from limited CapEx spend, in many cases relying on their existing resources and assets. They need better access to data to make informed decisions on where to invest and want access to leading-edge experts, but suffer from limited resources and ageing workforce issues. Consider the makeup of the manufacturing infrastructure: over 50% of the devices connected to industrial applications are not automation devices. One can’t merely focus on connecting to specialized devices – solutions are needed that seamlessly connect all devices reliably and securely. Consider the lessons learned at Fanuc, one of the world’s largest industrial robot manufacturers. The company was struggling with a lack of visibility of how its customers were leveraging its equipment on the factory floor.

Iot helps us deliver a proactive go-to-market strategy for our customers

Mike Cicco
CEO Fanuc America

The only insight gained came after a problem had already occurred resulting in costly downtime for customers. After meeting with Cisco and exploring possible solutions, Fanuc saw the potential to change its entire go-to-market business strategy. Leveraging new tools from the digital world, Fanuc now extracts customer data from its processes, stores it in the cloud, and employs predictive analytics to remedy any potential problems before they can negatively impact customers. The company called on its technical expertise to influence customers’ IT departments into sharing their data in the cloud. “By using this data and improving its response time to potential incidents, Fanuc is leveraging the Internet of Things to deliver a proactive go-to-market strategy for our customers,” says Mike Cicco, president and CEO of Fanuc America.

IoT is just one part of a much bigger transition that’s been happening for a long time in manufacturing. More “things” on the plant floor are being connected using the technology that powers the Internet.

Sensors can measure almost anything

Things (machines of all kinds, and even non-machines) are being embedded with smart sensors and gaining the ability to communicate. These are not just sensors for the measurement of temperature, pressure, humidity, and other parameters. They can be almost anything. For example, a camera can be a sensor and it can be used to monitor movement, quality, or even temperatures using infrared imaging – which all makes for a more intelligent manufacturing environment.

Input/output (IO) devices on the factory floor are becoming more intelligent, which means they can generate and transmit more insights in real time and benefit from the diagnostic data created by the sensors. Meanwhile, connectivity is going deeper, well beyond the plant controllers, and on to other factory assets, such as robots. Video cameras, scanners, diagnostics tools, Iot helps and even personal mobile devices can be added to this growing list of IP-enabled devices. These connected things become the tools for a better understanding of all the factory’s complex processes – and then using that knowledge to more rapidly adapt to change. Smarter machines can be better controlled, thereby increasing efficiency, in what has come to be called “plant-wide optimization.”

When it’s a success, IoT is often a combination of connectivity with real time analytics and new cloud services. The result can include an increase in manufacturing output, higher uptimes, more flexible manufacturing, and lower costs from the consolidation of siloed systems and proprietary networks. Securing the new architectures from attack is becoming more important as more of the factory floor devices get connected. Hooking up these devices to the whole enterprise is a noble goal but it means an increasing number of operations can become the focus of attacks. Reducing risk in today’s largely unprotected plants is the direct result of bringing in new security solutions. Still questions proliferate. Can IoT help with deploying a converged network infrastructure? Help manufacturers improve business performance? Simplify the network architecture and build IT-friendly machines?

Those advocating IoT inside the factory are looking for some key goals:

Lowering total cost of ownership: A single network architecture and open standards help to eliminate the costs associated with multiple isolated networks and proprietary systems.

Improve operational responsiveness: Deeper insight into operations and real-time collaboration between manufacturing, engineering, and suppliers improves the quality of decisions and helps manufacturers to quickly and efficiently adapt to changing business requirements and supply-chain management needs.

Reduce time to market: By replacing a multi-tier networking strategy with one standard network architecture, OEMs can reduce the time it takes to design, develop, and deliver machines. Manufacturers, meanwhile, can reduce their time to market with fewer integration risks and better visibility into data.

Protect critical manufacturing systems: The development of a comprehensive security model while enabling secure information visibility and access across production lines. Dieter Zetsche, chairman of Daimler, says that the pace of acceleration in manufacturing is changing so quickly that he expects to see more changes on the factory floor in the next ten years than we’ve seen in the last 100 years. If you look at the movement toward smart manufacturing, many leading companies are deploying new, more intelligent, connected machines driving significant output and productivity gains as substantial as in previous industrial revolutions, like the impact of the steam engine. It’s a pretty exciting time in manufacturing.

It’s time to look at the Internet of Things as a key enabler in manufacturing, not just the trends but some concrete solutions and use cases that can be deployed to help get started in capturing some of that value.

Smart Factories - Putting all together

Putting it all together: Factory wireless solutions create new flexible communication opportunities between things, machines, databases, and people throughout the plant

Looking at what’s connected today, it is apparent that an inflection point was passed near the beginning of this century and since then there’s been a huge upswing in the number of connections. About 2% of what can be connected is connected today but by 2020 there will be 50 billion smart objects connected. This will affect every business.

Connectivity has been a trend for many years and is passing another inflection point. It’s changed cars into connected vehicles; it’s changed TVs through connections to the Internet; and it’s changing many other consumer products as well.

IoT’s biggest impacts are showing up on the business side of a company’s operations. This means manufacturers who leverage IoT can improve core processes in business enterprises, much as the frst generation of the Internet led to transformations such as e-commerce and e-fulfillment that saved billions of dollars for customers. The Internet’s next generation is seeing the move from PCs to mobile devices, robots, and sensors and this will, likewise, transform business again.

New products can be introduced faster

Robotics and automation advancements are already playing a critical role in this evolution. Over a million examples are in use today and they are being deployed more broadly from largely automobile manufacturing into other areas including warehouses, energy plants, and hospitals.

Emerging processes are also being adopted such as additive manufacturing (3D printing) as it moves well beyond plastics and into metals and a varied assortment of other materials. The trend of introducing products more quickly and frequently is also increasing. No longer is it sufficient for most manufacturers to introduce products once a year. Leading manufacturers such as Samsung, Apple, and Microsoft now introduce products numerous times each year.

Inside the factory, IoT is building smart new connections. The journey is going from an unconnected factory with proprietary serial islands to a connected one with multi-capable flexible platforms. Sometimes this can be a very daunting process, with so many moving parts and people to coordinate.

In Phase 1: The unmanaged, unconverged network establishes a base network environment, allowing for richer sensor data to be acquired. Although this phase remains siloed and lacks security, the model does at least connect devices to a common infrastructure.

In Phase 2: Network convergence is introduced, which improves visibility into the plant, and also introduces cost savings through production visibility. Siloed networks are converged into a common plant infrastructure.

In Phase 3: This is when it’s best to introduce a flexible, multi-capability network environment. Critical services such as security, mobility, and other collaborative services are then integrated into the overall plant network, allowing for real-time access to both production and business data.

By converging the previously siloed sensors, machines, cells, and zones, IoT-powered factory automation systems help integrate manufacturing systems and business systems, to bring everything online on a single network. This provides flexibility to adapt quickly to changes, whether these are new product introductions, planned product line changeovers, or other adjustments. Each affected zone, from the enterprise to the plant floor, gets real-time alerts about changes through networked mobile devices, video monitors, and human-to-machine interfaces (HMIs). Real-time information also links back into the entire supply chain, so each step in the manufacturing value chain from supply through to distribution can quickly respond as needed. These are the components in the ideal suite of solutions – and they work well together, in this fashion:

Factory wireless solutions create new flexible communication opportunities between things, machines, databases, and people throughout the plant. From asset tracking to visibility of automation controls and HMIs, wireless network environments on the shop floor can increase productivity and production speed. A unified wireless infrastructure delivers the reliability and performance needed for mission critical plant floor applications (like wireless torque tools).

It can also be a platform for additional industrial global applications, such as Wi-Fi asset tags that help increase productivity by making it easy to find production assets and inventory – or mobile high-definition video cameras that enhance remote troubleshooting and collaboration.

Controlling access to plants and machines

Factory security solutions work with factory automation systems to create plant security for both digital and physical assets. It gives detailed control of plant network access by user, device, and location. For example, a plant manager can limit a remote or on-site expert’s access to just the machines they support. Factory energy management solutions enable intelligent IoT applications, such as analytic engines that communicate with machine sensors, to stream detailed operational data between the plants and the higherlevel systems. This provides real-time visibility into valuable energy use information. For example, instead of consuming power when not in use during breaks and weekends, machines can be triggered by automated controls to power up only according to the production schedules sent to HMIs, helping to cut plant energy use by between 10% and 20%.

the pace of acceleration in manufacturing is changing so quickly that I expect to see more changes on the factory floor in the next ten years than we’ve seen in the last 100 years

Dieter Zetsche CEO Daimler

Dieter Zetsche - CEO Daimler - Smart Factory

What is the real business value of a connected factory? Persistent problems created by inflexible production lines show up when it takes weeks to reconfigure one. When companies deploy factory automation solutions they can build their products on any production line. Debugging times go from hours to minutes, increasing the operational efficiency.

Factory wireless solutions help solve issues like long search times to find parts, or the cost of cabling and need to rewire, which lowers operating costs. Factory security is critical and identity-based access and secure remote monitoring reduce risk and allow new business models. Companies struggle with energy costs but if they can’t get any data about energy usage how can they meet requirements or regulations? Factory energy management helps to lower energy costs. Factory automation systems include rapid fault isolation, greater ease of use, more flexible manufacturing, and greater resilience. Ease of use is particularly important at three in the morning when a malfunction occurs. Look at the difference experienced by an operator on the floor who’s able to identify the issue, pull a device from the storage room, and just plug it in. Contrast that with needing to bring production down for several hours, trying to get the right expertise at that time – this difference can translate into lasting savings of bottom-line dollars. Use cases can be found almost everywhere, from controls visibility to wireless tooling, asset tagging, and mobile video. A number of products are helping to make a more seamless factory floor experience.

Smart Factories - The Future of Manufacturing

The future of manufacturing: Advances in robotics and automation are already playing a large role in the evolution of the automobile industry

Connected factory automation solutions are not just about connecting these automated systems, but binding these systems together and moving to converged platforms. This enables better visibility and faster diagnostics that can concretely reduce downtime and new business models, like flexible manufacturing. Some users report lasting productivity gains, including up to five-times improvement in build-to-order cycle times – allowing them to go from months to weeks. Practically speaking, it means plant managers can troubleshoot not just switches, but every plant floor device. Finding the root cause of a problem faster, versus spending hours trying to find out where there is a problem.

Avoiding downtime is a crucial goal

One manufacturer had a line card that went bad – but because the managers didn’t have visibility, they started pulling line cards and other things, and wound up with ten hours of downtime. This was something they could have (and should have) identified and fixed in minutes.

There are many leading suppliers of industrial automation equipment and control systems – and they all seem to be focused on IoT. It’s a critical part of every strong factory which looks to reap the full benefits delivered by emerging technologies. Here are a few helpful hints:

  • Take the technology view: Support the use of open, unmodified standards, with intelligent networking features in automation networks through ODVA, ISA, and others.
  • Focus on reference architectures: Offer tested, validated design and implementation guidance, and best practices for a converged network architecture.
  • Value both people optimization and process optimization: Develop process guidelines for help with convergence, and facilitate training and dialog with people in IT and manufacturing.

As the role of IT has changed, navigating this increasingly complex landscape has required more than beefing-up already isolated systems. It’s more than business as usual. Today, it’s become critical in the world of manufacturing to assess how emerging platforms perform, and how they integrate and converge. The desire expressed by executives who manage the machine-building companies is for IT systems to continue to become increasingly simple, smart, and secure. This means rapid new service deployments, more compelling user experiences, and organizational agility.

The technology these companies most desire is the tech that enables their firm to acquire and analyze the influx of data. It reduces complexity, allowing the company to shift from focusing on cost to focusing on growth. It empowers the company’s leaders to make the best choices about where data and applications reside, and how to protect those key assets wherever they are. Leaders who actively embrace these dynamic changes are thriving and reaping the rewards as new growth opportunities appear.


Gordon Feller is an advisor on tech trends based in Silicon Valley:

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