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Creating an Actionable IoT Manufacturing Plan

By: Dan Johnson

Much has been written about the possibilities of the Internet of Things (IoT) – but how do you actually go about creating an appropriate, actionable plan that incorporates it into your operations to increase efficiency and productivity? For manufacturers, it’s vital to ensure that maximum value is derived from connected supply chains, smart manufacturing, and the IoT. To accomplish that, the first step is to create an effective IoT manufacturing plan. 

You start by asking a very basic question: “What specific problem am I trying to solve?” As the IoT continues to evolve, it is often used to address systemic failure points, broken business processes, or new ways to utilize actionable information about operations, suppliers, or customers. 

At the heart of the IoT is information—data flowing to and from any number of components, machines, and systems. So it’s important to first understand and identify the source or sources of information and then structure that data in a format that’s consumable so that it can be easily analyzed and utilized to address the specific problem or task that’s been identified. 

Here’s a non-manufacturing example that helps clarify the different approaches to IoT data a company can take:

A large school bus company wants to manage several different kinds of data to have a direct impact upon the cost of operations, including staying ahead of maintenance issues, such as consumable vehicle parts. This might include collecting data such as vehicle mileage, elapsed service time, parts inventory (which may not include inventories at every repair location, so it will also involve determining nearest inventory location, as well as efficient and timely transportation of parts). All of this available data needs to be put into a structure that enables the bus company to monitor and manage wear and tear to be able to make informed maintenance decisions and turn that knowledge into action.

Now let’s consider a new scenario:

The company wants to address parents’ concerns about their children’s location and safety. That same bus company, looking now to address a service issue in addition to the maintenance one, may have to come up with an entirely separate data solution. In this instance, to create an actionable IoT manufacturing plan, they need to determine how that data is going to be collected (a trackable RFID tag the child wears) and determine how that data will be structured to provide parents with the information they want while avoiding potential identification fraud without getting into biometrics. 

It’s easy to see how important it is to understand what’s being collected and how it’s going to be used – and therefore structured -- to meet the primary objective.

Tips for assessing IoT information needs:

  • Determine informational effects: “If I had X information, what would that do? And if I had Y information, what would that do?”
  • Determine the format that will give this information value
  • Design an information hub – the data structure that will make that data manageable and consumable
  • Determine how that data will be consumed – static reports, real-time dashboards, etc. 

The information hub will be the cornerstone of your IoT manufacturing plan – properly designed and implemented, it will enable you to manage, monitor, and distribute your structured IoT data efficiently while also enabling you to cleanse that data using ETL tools to ensure it is validated, relevant, and current. 

As the IoT requires an increasing amount of automated data acquisition, manufacturers will need to adapt processes and infrastructures to manage, store, and manipulate all that data. With your IoT manufacturing plan in hand, the next step will be to determine where the data will reside – on-premises or in the cloud.