Executives are focusing on plant-floor data initiatives to drive operational and business excellence, faster time to market, and immediate access to data from machines on the factory floor.
The Internet has already gone through several stages in its relatively short life span. The evolution has benefitted individuals, social causes, politics, business and entire economies by escalating connectedness, removing physical barriers, and harnessing “Big Data.” The Internet arguably is the most transformative and pervasive driver of change and improvement in our history.
And it's just getting started.
Internet-powered technology innovation within the industrial operations space adds new dimensions almost daily. Manufacturers are converging a new breed of standard network architecture with "smart manufacturing systems" to connect formerly distinct production and business domains. The result is referred to as "Industry 4.0" in which Internet-based manufacturing networks are uniting the factory floor with enterprise-based systems and decision makers.
To validate the impact and power of the Internet effect on the plant floor, we only need to look at the networking-induced dynamics that dominate everyday life in a connected world. Connectivity is a winning strategy because participants (or "nodes") connected within a network makes the whole greater than the sum of its parts. As citizens, consumers and businesspeople, we all encounter network effects every day. The World Wide Web, communicable diseases, tipping points, the wisdom of crowds, file sharing, social media, user-generated content and financial contagion are all manifestations of network effects that have become routine.
The everyday, mainstream examples of removing data-sharing limitations and boundaries translates directly to how advanced networking technology, infrastructure and practices of the next Internet era will support the harmonious coexistence of devices, applications and processes across the entire industrial enterprise.
According to the Aberdeen Group, 70% of manufacturing executives are focusing on plant-floor data initiatives to drive operational and business excellence, faster time to market, and immediate access to data from machines on the factory floor. Tapping the potential in a new generation of networking and analytical platforms capable of processing vast streams of industrial data will break down walls between operational domains to spur integration, collaboration and creativity. Characteristics of the new intelligent manufacturing environment include:
- Smart Assembly. Seeking to reduce disconnects between the manufacturing and enterprise networks, manufacturers are adopting converged intelligent networks are reducing downtime by allowing remote access to systems and partners and delivering precision, resiliency, and reliability from the plant floor to the enterprise.
- The Visual Factory. Manufacturers need better visibility into equipment performance, resource needs, and security threats. Emerging networking and connectivity solutions enable a dashboard view of multi-plant environments, enhancing efficiency, safety and return on assets.
- Plant-wide Visibility. Industrial facilities with globally dispersed production sites need better integrated production systems to shorten lead times. Internet Protocol (IP) network technology connects enterprise applications with device-level production data in real time, allowing faster information flows, faster decisions, and greater market responsiveness.
- Plant Alarm and Event Resolution. Plants often lack the ability to issue real-time notifications when equipment fails on the line. Open standards enable users to connect with sensor-level networks that detect malfunctions instantly (and often before they occur) to create higher levels of overall equipment (OEE) effectiveness.
How At-Large Internet Lessons Translate to Industry
What is on the Internet horizon specific to the developments in connecting the industrial enterprise? The answer starts with a look at how rapidly we have progressed outside of the factory walls.
A desire to connect more "things" to the Internet occurred as soon as it emerged in the form of a handful of computers comprising the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET). Today, the Internet connects from 10 billion to 15 billion devices. Yet that figure represents less than 1 percent of things – particularly "smart devices" – that potentially can connect more people, new types of information, and virtually any production process component or application.
The industry is currently experiencing the Internet of Things (IoT) phase, where millions of new devices regularly connect to the Internet (Fig. 1). As these things add capabilities like context awareness, increased processing power, and energy independence, we will quickly enter the Internet of Everything (IoE) – a "network of networks" era, when billions or even trillions of connections will create unprecedented opportunities.
The current IoT is a powerful lesson in capturing the power of Big Data to create actionable intelligence that creates new capabilities and opens up new, prolific levels of productivity.
Connecting things provides a sneak peak at how more powerful IoT will generate even greater value and unprecedented economic opportunity. This is particularly true for industrial enterprises constantly on a hunt for seamless, interoperable and realistic-to-implement connectivity that increase plant floor visibility, reduce costs, improve quality and drive greater productivity.
The transformative, industry-changing power of the emerging IoT is visible in how the Internet is merging people, process, data and things to bring about a "democratization of information" that builds bridges between previously separate systems and scenarios. In the emerging intelligent networks landscape, for example, more machines are being outfitted with sensors that connect to the cloud, enabling communications with other machines and their operators in real time.
IoT Driving Value Into the Industrial Enterprise
How does IoT translate into a business edge for manufacturers? Industrial firms are reporting benefits ranging from a boost in labor productivity and collaboration, to greater overall equipment efficiency, better market agility, and positive customer experiences. Key capabilities include:
Faster Time to Market. Manufacturers deploying architectures to support the IoT revolution say they are reaping benefits from opening up information flows between plant systems and business applications. As these information silos disappear, disconnects between the floor and the business are diminishing. For example, R&D departments are now working in tandem with manufacturing planners, streamlining the introduction of new products. Using dashboards and mobile devices, managers and engineers react immediately to shifting production needs, operational issues and market scenarios. The result, managers say, is like having an "enterprise-wide decision engine" that enables them to speed new products to market and execute supply chain adjustments faster than before.
Operational Excellence, Improved Productivity. IoT connectivity promotes a new class of operating assets, often embedded with sensors and actuators that are "self-aware" and capable of communicating with other machines without human intervention. These networks of intelligent machines adjust automatically to changing operating conditions and alert operators to maintenance needs in advance of breakdowns (from "break-fix" to a "fix-before-break" model).
Consequently, equipment efficiency increases and the risk of downtime declines. Meanwhile, costs are controlled automatically through proactive maintenance programs that rely on devices, based on sensor data, communicating across industrial networks.
For an advance look at how the IoT will accelerate industrial opportunities and capabilities, take a look at the leaps that connectivity and integration generate in everyday life.
People. In IoT, people will connect to the Internet in innumerable ways. Today, most people connect to the Internet through devices (PCs, tablets, TVs and smartphones) and social networks (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest). As the Internet evolves toward IoT, people will connect in more relevant and valuable ways. Already, for example, a patient can swallow a pill that senses and reports digestive tract health to a doctor over a secure Internet connection. In addition, sensors placed on the skin or sewn into clothing will provide information about a person's vital signs.
Ultimately, according to Gartner Research, people themselves will become nodes on the Internet, with both static information and a constantly emitting activity system. The plant-floor prognosis is similar, where Internet Protocol (IP)-enabled microprocessors – the brains inside digital devices – turn individual pieces of equipment into smart devices.
Process. Process plays an important role in how the other IoT entities – people, data and things – integrate with each other to deliver value across the traditionally separate and distinct scenarios. With the correct process, connections become relevant and add value because the right information is delivered to the right person at the right time in the appropriate way. The unprecedented ability to combine hardware and software over industrial Ethernet is one example of how the IoT will transform the industrial landscape.
Data. With IoT, devices typically gather data and stream it over the Internet to a central source, for analysis and processing. As the capabilities of things connected to the Internet continue to advance, they will become more intelligent by combining data into more useful information. Rather than just reporting raw data, connected things will soon send higher-level information back to machines, computers and people for further evaluation, including the creation of predictive "what if" scenarios that will optimize decision making.
Things. The IoT layer includes physical items like sensors, devices and enterprise assets connected to both the Internet and to each other. In IoT, things will sense more data, become context-aware, and provide more experiential information to help people and machines make more relevant and valuable decisions. Parallel examples on the plant floor range from smart sensors collecting machine-level energy consumption to other IP-enabled digital devices like video cameras, RFID readers and security swipe cards.
Example: Scaling Up From Things to Everything
For a real-time glimpse of the forward progress made possible by converging people, process, data and things on an IoT scale, consider the power in connecting human nodes with information relevant to what they are doing in real time. The following scenario demonstrates transforming cities to benefit citizens, but the example is equally useful for envisioning how unprecedented processing power and connectivity will transform the industrial enterprise.
Technology pioneer City24/7 is committed to making public communications more accessible to everyone, everywhere. The organization has launched an interactive platform that integrates information from open government programs, local businesses, and citizens to provide meaningful and powerful knowledge anytime, anywhere, on any device.
Located at bus stops, train stations, major entryways, shopping malls, and sports facilities, City24/7 Smart Screens incorporate touch, voice, and audio technology to deliver a wide array of hyper-local (about two square city blocks) information, services, and offerings in real time. The Smart Screens can also be accessed via Wi-Fi on nearby smartphones, tablets, and laptop computers. In short, City24/7 is harnessing IoE to deliver the information people need to know, where and when it helps them most.
Connecting people, data and things in processes that integrate on an IoT scale will enable New York City to:
- Inform by instantly connecting people with information that is relevant to their immediate proximity.
- Protect by giving local police and fire departments a citywide sensing, communications, and response network that can direct needed personal and resources exactly where and when they are needed
- Revitalize by increasing levels of commerce, investment, and tourism.
Harnessing the Power of Exponential Connections Requires New Mindset
IoT will drive networks of networks, built upon billions – and someday trillions – of connections to create unprecedented opportunities. What are the risks? And why? The answer lies in the exponential power of networks – commonly referred to as "network effects." The principle often is associated with Metcalfe's Law, named after technologist and 3Com founder Robert Metcalfe. It states that the value of a network increases proportionately to the square of the number of users.
The competitive dynamics during the next decade will fundamentally be shaped by the efforts of organizations to harness network effects through new, deeper and more pervasive connections afforded by IoT. There is one very real obstacle, however. Humans tend to think in linear terms.
As a result, contemporary management thinking often focuses on linear responses to change. This linear default conflicts with a key IoT reality. The value offered by the new "connections economy" will only accrue to enterprises that successfully and aggressively foster, embody and exploit network effects. Exponential change inherent in the IoT presents considerable risk because the pace demands that organization response must also be exponential. Business leaders must move beyond linear thinking and reacting in linear fashion in order to harness chaotic network effects for constructive ends.
The IoE will face many hurdles as it comes to fruition over the next 10 years. Many of the challenges are familiar. Issues for industry include security, scalability, reliability and validating capital investment. In addition to these challenges, many technical barriers will need to be overcome as IoE pushes the boundaries of what we know is possible today with regard to network protocols, storage and analytics.
But in an industrial enterprise environment where rapid, prolific technology change has rendered five-year plans irrelevant, there is no doubt the next Internet era is bearing down on the plant floor. Having observed how the Internet of Things has transformed – and disrupted – virtually every aspect of daily life, today is a good time for industry to start planning to operate and compete in a world running at an Internet of Everything pace of change.