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Transforming Manufacturing IT: Put the IoT Into Action

By: Dan Johnson

The manufacturing world is on the brink of a transformation that will fundamentally change how information technology will be used to inform production processes and operations in general.

Manufacturing IT is about to look a lot different.

The Internet of Things (IoT) will offer a radical new view into manufacturing and distribution processes, creating an end-to-end systemic transparency previously unavailable. Machines will report back on their status and progress in real-time, helping workers make adjustments and take unexpected circumstances into account to improve efficiency and productivity. New distribution and transportation connectivity will enable companies to avoid bottlenecks and delays in getting products to market. And that’s just the beginning. 

However, any changes to your IT environment designed to incorporate the IoT into your operations need to be more than just app upgrades – they need to be transformative. Traditional proprietary networks are becoming less common and there is an explosion of IP devices being installed throughout supply chains. This includes a variety of new, never before accessible data points that can be leveraged to provide tremendous business value – remember, the value of the IoT is not the devices connected but the data they generate. To fully utilize this new asset requires big thinking and bold IT moves.

Putting transformative IT into action begins with two questions: “what problem am I really trying to solve?” and “what does success look like?” While that might sound a little too esoteric to some, it’s a helpful starting point because it may reveal that your existing manufacturing IT ecosystem may not be up to the task of helping your company achieve that success. It’s a good idea to see where you are, evaluate how you got there, and determine where you’d like to be.

So how does a company achieve IT transformation to accommodate its vision of success? Incorporating significantly more data points into your operation and pro-actively utilizing that data to optimize processes may simply overwhelm your current platform. First, evaluate your physical infrastructure – there are usually areas of opportunity for additional connectivity on the manufacturing floor and throughout the supply chain as well is in data storage. If you find that your existing infrastructure is not capable of accommodating the additional load that the IoT may put upon it, this might be the time to migrate to the cloud. 

Transformative manufacturing IT helps manufacturers create more automated, intelligent, and streamlined manufacturing processes that can positively affect four main areas:

1. Infrastructure

By increasing connectivity between people, mobile devices, and products, an “informed infrastructure” is better able to manage manufacturing process complexities and make them more efficient. 

2. Processes

The IoT encourages more active, bi-directional information-sharing across the manufacturing value chain (from supplier to customer), leading to a more flexible and adaptable supply chain.

3. People

Using the IoT to provide added connectivity and real-time information-sharing across all business functions, units, and locations productivity and production is optimized and downtime minimized.

4. Products

Creating “informed products” through use of advanced sensors, controls, and embedded software enables them to communicate with process machines which can take unique and specific action in response to what they’re “hearing” from products as they progress through the production line.

Truly transformational manufacturing IT opens up a wide range of process, performance, and productivity opportunities – from R&D to sourcing, production, and distribution – helping manufacturers answer the question “what does success look like?” and achieve that objective. 

Sure, “The Internet of Things” might sound a little science-fictiony, but the possibilities and potential for it are real when the technology is integrated with other cutting edge solutions, such as machine-to-machine (M2M) communications and factory automation. If manufacturers are willing to support truly transformative IT and commit to embracing change, the benefits derived from the IoT could be substantial.