Ricardo Buranello is the Head of Platforms Business Unit at Telit, engaged in the creation and implementation of Telit’s platforms strategy.
The world continually goes through rapid transformation. In manufacturing, the role of transformational technology can be game-changing. Emerging technologies can improve companies’ productivity, cost, quality, time-to-market and product innovation; however, companies are in very different stages in terms of the adoption of these technologies.
While in our personal lives, the world is almost completely accessible to us with just a touch of a button, in manufacturing it’s still very common to hear “if it is working, don’t touch it.” Some companies still lag tremendously in the adoption of automation, data collection, data visualization and data analytics. To remain cost-competitive where world-class quality products are available at the click of a button, there is a need to radically improve operations in large, medium and small organizations alike.
A Leadership Role
Digital transformation doesn’t begin with technology. What we see is that the companies that succeed and lead in transformation are the ones that can adapt their culture. This begins with leaders who can promote behavioral change in their teams and who push for a commitment to productivity gains. Those who take a careful look and comprehension of the data are the ones leading innovation and accelerating business results. Data-driven companies can better understand the reality of the facts, ignoring biased opinions and focusing on the root causes of problems and identifying new opportunities.
Collect, Integrate, Visualize, Act
With leadership setting the right targets, the second step in business transformation is to understand the foundational blocks. In the same way a doctor asks for an electro-cardiogram to understand the function of the heart, companies need to check the “heartbeat” of the process. This starts with the ability to collect and manage real-time process data. Machine data collection is not new. Since the invention of the programmable logic controller (PLC) in 1969 by Dick Morley, the concept of machine data collection was already there. So where is the innovation? The innovation comes from the advent of modern industrial IoT platforms, a software solution that can ingest data from hundreds of different machines and sensors, perform real-time protocol conversion and integrate the data with IT systems data and more.
Today, it is possible for all of the data collection to be done in a “no-code” environment. This reduces the barriers to data collection and creates a common language among different machines and systems. After conquering the first step of machine data connectivity, it’s time to think about systems integration. Companies need to define clear strategies on hardware and software integration for IT/OT convergence. Having the ability to interconnect machines to an ERP system, for example, will improve the ability to trace costs and work in progress (WIP).
Integration with the manufacturing execution system (MES) will improve line-set up-timing, throughput analysis and production control. Integration with quality control systems can provide better quality control. The integration with maintenance ticketing systems can improve preventive maintenance programs, reducing unexpected downtime. Cloud solutions integrated with manufacturing processes also play a key role in historic analytics, data analytics and more. While many companies still try to do this integration “by hand” using custom code, many often realize there is a risk, cost and time consumption issue with this effort. For this reason, the industrial IoT platforms market has grown so significantly that by 2025, smart manufacturing platform revenue is expected to reach $32 billion annually, according to ABI research.
Data is not information until you can make it actionable. Providing real-time information and KPIs for the whole team is important to drive behavior transformation and set faster responses. In the same way basketball players need to know the score of the game and how much time they have for the next shot, manufacturing managers and operators should know the line performance minute by minute. Companies that have clear performance tracking systems tend to have better productivity than companies that don’t have clear performance tracking.
New technologies are completely revolutionizing the global manufacturing industry and legacy processes. Digital transformation will continue to be a priority for companies as they implement new, smart technologies.
Transformation requires an active leadership role and managers who want to reinvent the way things are built, and who care about details and pursue ultimate excellence.
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