Imagine a scenario in which key information from every aspect of production is captured and shared — from suppliers to engineering, from machines running on the production floor to workers performing inspections and maintenance.

Bringing together factories, supply chain members, quality control, data management and customer service under one communication umbrella affords the opportunity to spot problems earlier, implement cost savings at all levels, and improve customer satisfaction. In short, the ability to connect efficiently affects the ability to compete effectively. That’s the promise of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), and it will revolutionize manufacturing.

“The Industrial Internet is indeed transformative. It will change the basis of competition, redraw industry boundaries and create a new wave of disruptive companies, just as the current Internet has given rise to Amazon, Google and Netflix.”-World Economic Forum, 2015

THE THREE STAGES OF CONNECTED FACTORIES

The promise of IIoT cannot be realized without a comprehensive strategy to integrate the various aspects of manufacturing operations.

That means capturing operations data, of course. But more important, and often overlooked, is the need for a software system, a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) or Manufacturing Operations Management (MOM). It gives managers the ability to make sense of the operations data captured, and to make decisions based on complete and timely information.

The first “I” in IIoT could stand for “Integrated” rather than “Industrial” because that is what really distinguishes IIoT from IoT: the ability to control every aspect of manufacturing through an integrated network.

Managers recognize the need for a comprehensive information management system to underpin IIoT, and find themselves in one of three stages of development:

PRE-SOFTWARE

A significant percentage of the industrial community still has no software solution in place to connect departments. All aspects of the factory are in silos, operating autonomously from one another.

For example, the quality control department may not talk to suppliers early in the production cycle to try to identify and improve quality issues. This leads to an inefficient flow of information, which could affect the quality of the product delivered to the end user.

SEMI-CONNECTED FACTORY

Some operations have realized the need for increased connectivity, but they have not yet taken a complete leap into its installation on a system-wide basis.

They might be relying on some type of homegrown solution or point solution that connects pieces of the factory, but not all of it, into one unified system.

This would be similar to having a digital device that can help increase one element of efficiency, but it is not yet connected to the web to gather information from multiple sources.

For example, the company may have implemented a system for Quality Control to talk to suppliers regarding product specifications. But elsewhere in the organization, Operations is not alerting Maintenance to the cause of a persistent downtime issue, which is causing a severe disruption in production.

While certainly better than the pre-software stage, this still leaves the factory in a state of lowered connectivity, and affects its ability to operate at the highest rates of efficiency.

CONNECTED FACTORY

This is a manufacturing operation that has a fully functioning MES/MOM in place.

These capabilities enable the entity to utilize IIoT to its fullest potential by completely integrating the value stream and optimizing all processes.

The MES serves the functions of analyzing data, implementing systems and taking action without the need for human intervention at every step of the way, all powered by the data captured and transmitted via IIoT infrastructure.

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