The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) promises a whole new world of sensors and smart devices collecting information and adding a new level of control while extending visibility throughout the plant, warehouse and the entire supply chain. But the prospect of installing, integrating and managing an IIoT network can be daunting, indeed.
Some companies will want to start small, adding a few sensors and devices into existing networks while others may be ready to embark on a bigger project to take full advantage of what IIoT has to offer. Either way, the important thing is to get started. IIoT is a basic underlying technology for Manufacturing 4.0 and a key component of modern supply chain management.
Every company will have to decide just how much IIoT technology they want to bring into their environment, and how fast. The first blog in the series offered some general advice and suggestions for those who want to experiment with a few IIoT devices before committing to a larger IIoT project. This blog offers general advice for companies that are ready for a full commitment to IIoT in the plant and/or warehouse. The third and final blog applies to companies contemplating IIoT in the supply chain – outside of the local plant and warehouse.
IIoT In The Plant Or Warehouse
Each company considering a move to incorporate IIoT into their business will have different reasons for doing so. Some will be focused on improving workflow and throughput in the plant, others will focus on material control and visibility in the plant and warehouse, many will pursue both. Whatever the priorities, they are looking for real-time tracking of activities and events, increased access to more comprehensive information throughout the organization, and establishing or expanding the data collection and management infrastructure necessary to support many of the functions of Manufacturing 4.0 including Digital Manufacturing, the Digital Thread, advanced planning that relies on simulation and Machine Learning, and more.
Here are some considerations and observations to keep in mind as you start planning for your implementation of IIoT:
- No company would (or should) expend money and resources without knowing how that investment will benefit the business – generate a return on that investment. In addition, having a clearly stated goal helps to plan the project and steer its management – every activity can be evaluated in terms of how it contributes to the overall goals.
- Scope. One of the biggest factors in failure to complete a project successfully is the phenomenon commonly known as “scope creep”. This happens when a project keeps growing beyond the initial objectives until it fails to meet those objectives, runs out of funding and must be terminated before completion, misses scheduled dates because of the lack of focus, and/or suffers massive cost overruns. Undoubtedly, you will see a lot of tempting new ideas and technologies that seem like a great idea (with seemingly just a little impact on the original project). Resist the temptation. Success with the first project will bolster your case for a phase II follow-on that can incorporate some of the great ideas you develop along the way.
- Existing systems and networks. Unless you are planning to replace your existing ERP, MES and other major systems, one of your first considerations should be how these existing systems will fit in with and support the new IIoT technology. If current systems are not amenable to the IIoT data input and outputs you’re planning, either change your plans or replace those systems before embarking on your IIoT initiative. Trying to force-fit IIoT into systems that are not well-suited for them is a much bigger and more difficult task than you can imagine.
- Technical issues. Taking the compatibility issue a bit deeper, carefully choose suppliers, protocols, and security that will serve your needs today and have the best prospects for moving with you into the future as your needs grow and technology evolves. Nobody can predict with any level of certainty how technology will change so choosing technologies and protocols is less important than choosing partners (suppliers) that show a commitment to keeping their products up-to-date, providing outstanding customer service and support, and have the financial strength and stability to succeed in their markets over the long term.
- The people side. Always remember that you are investing in tools that will help operations go more smoothly, reduce costs, improve customer service, and help workers and users do their jobs. No matter how “intuitive” or “user friendly” your new tech is purported to be, users will need training and an understanding of what the systems do and how. They will need to know what they are seeing and just what the systems are telling them in order to trust them and put them to effective use. There is a natural human reluctance to things that are new and things that they don’t understand. The best way to gain acceptance (and enthusiasm) for a technology project is to involve the users early as the systems are initially envisioned and planned. You’ll want to encourage a feeling of ownership among the user community so they will be invested in the systems’ success. They will also be the ones who can tell you if and how the new systems will enhance their effectiveness (or not) – extremely valuable information especially at the early planning stages.
To be successful, system implementations of this kind take a multi-disciplinary team – users, IT, management, suppliers and technical consultants – and a well-managed project with a strong project leader.