How is the Industrial IoT transforming industry?
I described in earlier articles how Industrial IoT involves a wide range of technologies, from semiconductors to cloud computing and artificial intelligence.
This month, I will explain how manufacturers can take advantage of this technology to make their processes more efficient and use the digital technology of IoT to transform their businesses and industries.
The key point is that potential opportunities for Industrial IoT include not only internal processes, but also customer and supplier relationships.
Building the business case
Manufacturers are defining and prioritising IoT projects in exactly the same way as they would treat any new technology. ‘It can be done’ doesn’t mean ‘it should be done’ – the proposer needs to build a business case.
IoT projects can offer whole new business models – for example, product-as-a-service (PaaS) – so the right people need to be involved to assess opportunities and develop ideas to fit their organisation’s priorities, timescales, budgets and culture.
For example, to introduce its ‘Sigma Air Utility operator model’, with pricing based on the consumed quantity of compressed air, Kaeser Compressors needed to build instrumented, connected machines. If the machines fail, the revenue stops.
So, as with all ‘as-a-service’ business models, there is commercial pressure to build reliable machines and minimise maintenance downtime. This approach needs broad involvement in decision-making.
Existing processes that gather requirements and define plans for projects of this type may not be sufficient – transformation may be needed, as highlighted by the apocryphal quote attributed to Henry Ford, “My customers would have asked for faster horses”.
However, what counts as transformational can depend on your point-of-view. For example, a new (IoT) remote-access system which allowed authorised process engineers to login to their factory production lines triggered the comment, “It changed my life” from one of the process engineers.
This individual had previously struggled to accept nightshift duties. For him, the change was transformational – even though the remote access needed is hardly new technology. Now, he volunteers for the night shift “…and if I can’t handle it online, I can usually guide the onsite team to fix problems.”
Analysis and control
Remote access is entry-level IoT. The next step is to feed asset data into analysis and control systems. Taking an IoT approach rather than a traditional machine-to-machine approach pays off here, because in addition to solving remote and multi-site communication questions (an internet connection is all that’s needed), it also simplifies connection to suitable analysis software hosted in the cloud.
The IoT approach supports many configurations; for example, if low-latency response must be guaranteed, an IoT system can use local (‘edge’) servers to cache the data.
The spectrum of capabilities was recently summarised by Brett Murphy of connectivity company Real-Time Innovations (RTI) as a range from monitoring at the simple end, to optimisation, where data from one or more assets can be analysed and the results used by an operator to adjust settings for better performance, up to autonomy, where the IoT software makes the adjustments automatically.
These monitoring, optimisation and autonomy examples are happening inside a manufacturer’s organisation, and may be local to the production groups. They can be transformational because they may open up the next step for lean manufacturing initiatives.
However, it can be easier to see transformational effects from projects that offer something new to customers. Field service and asset management are the low-hanging fruit.
Here, the transformation is due to the connectivity of the machines Elekta sells to its customers, rather than the connectivity of the machines it uses in its factories.
Another example where predictive maintenance is transforming the way products are sold to customers is Rolls- Royce, which introduced its TotalCare Services some 20 years ago. TotalCare employs a ‘power by the hour’ model in which customers pay for service based on engine flying hours.
Rolls-Royce analyses engine data to manage customers’ engine maintenance and maximise aircraft availability. For security and availability reasons, ground-to-aircraft communications are independent of the Internet, using a specific Aircraft Communications Addressing and Reporting System (ACARS).
Since its introduction, the scope of TotalCare has grown in parallel with the growth in sensors-per-engine, and the capacity to analyse large volumes of data. Now, their Efficiency Insight service includes engine health monitoring, and tracks the health of thousands of engines operating worldwide.
The dramatic fall in sensor and communication costs has broadened the potential of these concepts to other industries. For example, food processing machinery makers Minerva Omega created the start-up DSC Nexus, which has brought IoT capabilities to machinery, including slicing machines found on retail meat and cheese counters.
For these relatively low-cost machines, sensing is achieved by monitoring the electric current/voltage profiles during start up, during no-load, and while cutting. So, a new power cord with an integrated sensor and Wi-Fi connectivity is all that’s needed to retrofit an existing machine. When the monitored electricity waveform demonstrates it’s time for a new blade, the appropriate operator or technician action can be scheduled.
Business goals and customer experience
While predictive maintenance takes centre stage in the industrial machinery sector, transformation is also happening in other sectors. The common theme is business justification based on achieving familiar goals:
- Reduce costs and improve operations
- Achieve competitive advantage by offering customers a better experience
- Open up new revenue streams.
The balance of these three goals varies, but they are always there, whether it’s connected car in automotive, cloud services for voice control of consumer goods, or smart metering and smart grid architectures in utilities.In agriculture, use of equipment across the whole business network is changing, from the supply of agricultural machines to the operation of fleets in the field using GPS, automated harvest collection, and product identification and tracking.
In construction, the trend towards off-site manufacturing and on-site assembly is being taken to the next level in OPTIMISED, a €7m EU-funded H2020 Factory of the Future project focussed on advanced manufacturing.
According to the project coordinator, Graham Herries of Laing O’Rourke, one focus is the manufacturing of construction components in a controlled factory environment. This so-called ‘offsite fabrication/design for manufacturing and assembly’ utilises modularisation of the architectural design to enable easy, componentised installation at site, reducing construction time and health and safety risks.
OPTIMISED will synchronise the logistics with factory production, and planning tools will enable a reduction in costs, higher efficiency, expansion of throughput and open up new markets for various products.
In retail, IOT is helping deliver every supply chain manger’s dream of visibility and food security. Companies like Walmart, working with IBM, are taking the opportunity to integrate ‘blockchain’ technology for distributed ledgers to ensure tracking and food security throughout the supply network. As success stories such as these – from the ‘early adopters’ – become more common, the technology will be taken up by the majority in that industry, and it will become mainstream.
But there are still challenges that need to be overcome, and different possible futures for industry, which will be the subject of the next article.
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