Digital businesses have been playing a major role in the consumer arena for quite a while, whereas industry still has to gain ground in digitalization. I believe that for many companies the digital transformation has not been really tangible as its benefits were not always obvious. But changes are clearly evident: Due to the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the trend is now picking up speed.
I’ve observed in the past year that many manufacturing companies worldwide were plunged into a difficult economic situation almost overnight, which was an eye-opener for industry stakeholders. The major conclusion they drew: Digitalization is essential in order to be flexible and resistant in times of crisis. However, despite the crisis many industrial companies decide to invest in the digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
Make profitable use of untapped data
The productivity and efficiency of the plant itself are the in the primary focus of today’s production: It’s the only way to improve output, shorten throughput time, and fast product changeovers. The proven automation technology here is doing a very good job.
The significance of untapped data in the immediate production environment, however, is still largely underestimated, and precious data often remains unnoticed – and unused. In my opinion, the associated savings potential can be enormous. The consistent transparency concerning materials, orders, resources, conditions, etc. can provide completely new insights for operational decisions. The results could be an optimal utilization of available resources, improved plant availability, optimized energy consumption, maintenance efficiency, or more efficient supply chains.
From my point of view, in these economically strained times no company can afford to leave these savings untapped.
IIoT is the key to optimally utilize data and create added value from it. A consistent connection between physical objects in the real production and intelligent algorithms and other functions in the virtual world make it possible. This allows data and information to be collected and securely forwarded to downstream intelligence. Smart devices like controllers, PCs, or edge devices can be connected and already existing data made available for further use. However, simple objects like boxes, workpieces, or operating and production equipment and their characteristics can also provide valuable digital information which can be detected via IoT sensors or sensor systems.
Intelligent and flexible software solutions, increasingly in the form of mobile apps, transform the data collected into productive recommendations for action. The user’s desired goal defines what data and information needs to be accessed from the field via connectivity. Therefore, a close cooperation with the user (co-creation) during the software development is expedient and his knowledge about the production and the plant can be incorporated. Thanks to artificial intelligence, software solutions provide unique data-based insights into corporate workflows and make a real time-capable knowledge base available for operational decision-making from wherever you are.
Maximum transparency of the plant
I recognize that the requirements for operating costs, availability, safety of production plants are continuously increasing in today’s process industry. It’s therefore crucial that all plant components consistently provide real data: This is the only way to securely monitor the state of the process plant, identify any anomalies well before a problem occurs, and introduce countermeasures to prevent cost-intensive plant downtime.
The challenge is usually to ensure that the data originating from all of the process plant’s active components is captured as completely as possible. This is where connectivity unleashes its full power: for example, it allows you to access existing data sources in field devices from the control systems. Components like pumps, compressors, and gears transmit valuable data via IoT sensors that allows you to draw conclusions on their operating condition.
Things become smart
The manufacturing industry is also under pressure: Customers want to be served faster and faster and changing product requirements need to be implemented almost immediately. To achieve the utmost level of flexibility and productivity, material flows have to work smoothly, and manufacturing workflows have to be maximally efficient and dynamic. This is where IIoT solutions provide target-oriented support: The digital connection of smart manufacturing devices to the production network lays the groundwork for accessing existing data conveniently for further use via intelligent apps.
The acquisition of data from the means of production like tools, workpieces, and materials enables an even higher level of data consistency. Thanks to identification via unique, automatically readable tags, location and identification systems can, for example, provide valuable logistical data. With production-wide access to this real-time-capable knowledge base, time-consuming searches and clarifications in the production area can become a thing of the past.
To cut a long story short…
The creation, storage, and especially the processing of data are becoming more and more important in today’s industries. As these challenges grow, so does the potential for savings. Thus, in perfect addition to the proven automation technology, the need of the hour are target-oriented IIoT solutions that enable the highly flexible and profitable use of data. The intelligent analysis and combination of this data can increase its usability exponentially, enabling even greater savings than originally expected – regardless of the industry.