Discrete Manufacturing

The Internet of Things and the Possibilities for Discrete Manufacturing

The Internet of Things is growing at a rapid rate. It is estimated that nearly 20 billion devices will be connected by 2020, up from  8.4 billion in 2017.  IoT-enabled applications are far-reaching, promising to prevent serious halts in production, recapture revenue, and add to workplace safety and security. In fact, 55 percent of discrete manufacturers report researching, piloting or starting production with IoT initiatives.

Despite this rising interest, very few companies are taking action. The IDC Manufacturing Insights found that although 66 percent of discrete manufacturers are actively pursuing IoT, nearly two-thirds have not begun a pilot program. However, the potential rewards mean it is worth taking that initial leap into the execution and deployment phase. Here are five powerful ways that IoT opens up new possibilities for discrete manufacturing.

1. Proactive, powerful efficiency tools

Efficiency is at the heart of manufacturing. But the right balance must be struck between efficiency and quality. There are vast amounts of data available, and IoT not only captures that data, but it can also deliver it to the people who need it most. Empowered with this data, staff can start making decisions in real time, and move from a reactive to a proactive state of operations.

The American Society for Quality surveyed manufacturing companies that use IoT. They found that companies using this technology experienced clear benefits, including:

– 82 percent higher efficiency

– 49 percent fewer product defects

– 45 percent increase in customer satisfaction

Having this increased efficiency allows companies to commit to delivery dates that are more accurate as these companies are less likely to experience a slowdown due to mechanical failure. Traditionally, equipment that requires repair may start to run at a slower rate. Unnoticed, it continues to run until finally the equipment experiences a shutdown and requires immediate repair. In contrast, IoT-enabled devices notice the slow down the moment it occurs by comparing current operating rates to historical data or predefined thresholds. When the slowdown is detected, maintenance is scheduled, and since it’s not a rushed situation, the impact and cost are mitigated.

Greater efficiency is also realized through energy savings. Energy is typically a top expense for discrete manufacturers. Tracking this data with accuracy, however, is not always common practice. A company may evaluate data from monthly utility bills or energy-monitoring tools. Both resources have limited data points, and there is often a delay in receiving the information. For example, monthly energy bills can arrive up to two weeks after the billing cycle, so the data included in the bill is stale.

In addition, you can’t get much data depth with these resources. Which machines are operating poorly? At what times of day is the most energy used? Are there specific machine operators who appear to be using more energy? If so, how can we remedy these challenges? None of this data can be derived from energy bills. In contrast, IoT allows you to dig deeper.

You can track energy consumption down to the device level with IoT. A specific machine may be operating poorly, and if so, you can be alerted to that problem and start coming up with solutions in real time. Managers are empowered to take action and keep discrete manufacturing facilities running at top performance.

Key Takeaway: IoT provides manufacturing companies with greater visibility, data, and insights than ever before. Having this information at your fingertips ensures that all sources of waste are identified and remedied in real time to minimize waste and maximize efficiency. As a result, your costs will decrease while your uptime increases

2. Maximizing supply chain efficiency

The digital revolution is having a profound effect on supply chain logistics. Analytics, real-time insights and IoT are transforming how discrete manufacturers operate, and one area of opportunity is the supply chain. How can you better harness the right data, deliver it to the right people and take action at the best possible moment?

Real-time supply chain data helps discrete manufacturers identify potential supply chain problems before they occur. Inventory holding costs and high capital expenditures can be completely avoided through proactive data gathering and management.

Part of the real value with IoT in the supply chain is the free flow of information. Plants can be connected to suppliers, allowing all involved parties to understand how the material is flowing, cycle times and other relevant details.

Internet-enabled trackers can track specific pieces of inventory throughout their journey, so you can better understand the path and identify inefficiencies and opportunities for improvement. Managers who are empowered with this data can become better decision-makers as they determine which material needs replacement and what purchases are needed.

Human error can also be minimized. For example, IoT networks can minimize human error when handling outbound packages by weighing, scanning, and looking for deviations in weight, size, and other preset parameters. Using this data, shipping solutions can match exact needs rather than “best estimates,” presenting excellent cost-cutting opportunities. Moreover, that data can be collected and shared with other departments that can then benefit from additional efficiencies.

Key Takeaway: IoT has the potential to transform the supply chain. This technology provides deep insights and visibility throughout the entire supply chain, minimizing potential waste and giving managers the ability to scale with greater efficiency.

3. Optimizing maintenance in real-time

IoT technologies allow sensors to be placed on machines, fueling more accurate maintenance and ongoing monitoring. For example, a machine may have strict temperature guidelines for operations. Temperatures that deviate from those preset ranges can create a ripple effect, ranging from machine shutdowns to slowed completion times and delayed customer shipments. Sensors monitor that temperature every second of every day. Temperatures that deviate from the norms generate a real-time alert that is sent to staff. The appropriate staff member can take action and prevent malfunctions and the need for emergency repairs and unplanned expenditures.

IoT shifts discrete manufacturers away from scheduled maintenance and into the world of predictive maintenance. No longer are you completing all repairs based on a schedule drafted from historical data. Maintenance is completed based on real-time data. A machine may not be scheduled for a specific procedure for six months, but if its sensors indicate it requires it now, action can be taken. In contrast, a machine may be due for a part replacement now, but if its sensors show that the part is in good working condition, you can schedule the replacement during the time period reflecting the actual need rather than the “expected need.”

Photographic instruments can also be used to scan machine components, such as blades, and send proactive alerts for maintenance if required. These scanners can check for a variety of issues, such as the raw materials used, confirming the right material is being used before finishing the product. These capabilities increase accuracy and minimize the risk of costly errors.

Key Takeaway: Downtime, last-minute repairs and emergency demands put discrete manufacturers in a state of always “putting out fires.” IoT empowers these companies to avoid those last-minute repairs and the resulting ripple effects and, most importantly, allows these companies to delight customers with high-quality products and timely deliveries.

4. Competitive differentiation

Customers have many options, and what can make a significant difference for them is the value they believe a company offers. These points of differentiation take your discrete manufacturing facility from being seen as creating a commodity that anyone can provide, to the status of being a valued partner for your clients. But making those points of differentiation compelling is key.

Most manufacturers want to leverage IoT and predictive maintenance, and they’re in some stage of exploration in order to do so, but very few have so far fully implemented this technology. This affords those that do an instant advantage. Internally, you have an opportunity to lower costs, optimize operations and reduce consumption to improve productivity. But from the customers’ end of things, none of these benefits matter. What they see is accuracy and dependability in their orders. Or the fact that the product always turns out as requested because sensors detect an issue the minute the wrong materials are being used and alert staff to make a quick change.

These distinct benefits become your competitive advantage as the technology works seamlessly in the background. This results in higher levels of repeat business, more referrals and greater confidence in your company. And if your pricing model isn’t the lowest in the industry, strong differentiation will help you prove your added value relative to your price.

Key Takeaway: Standing out against the competition is not any easy task, but predictive maintenance provides distinct advantages. Customers begin to understand the benefits this technology offers as their relationship grows stronger and deeper with your company.

5. Increased innovation

IoT and Predictive manufacturing foster progression and innovation for discrete manufacturers. The amount of data available will be greater than ever, but it’s not just having the data — it’s what you can do with it.

A specific type of equipment may break down more often. You don’t need IoT to tell you that. But what the technology can do is tell you what is going wrong with that machine. Maybe it’s a specific part that is consistently breaking prior to the anticipated service date. Perhaps this faulty part is affecting the required temperature range. If you own several of these machines, that data is valuable.

When it’s time to replace the equipment, you can go back to the data and add up all the additional costs. What is the real cost of owning this machine with all things considered? Maybe another machine can do an equally good job without some of the mechanical breakdowns. Having all that data available makes it possible to explore powerful insights.

Innovation is equally important to your customers. When new and existing customers see you investing heavily in new technology that makes their experience better, they notice. As a result, they will value your company, your team and the service that you provide.

Key takeaway: A competitive landscape demands that companies embrace innovation. Greater efficiency, fewer costs and the ability to anticipate equipment failure are all important, but equally important is gaining the ability to delight your customers while exceeding their expectations.

Seizing the moment of relevance

An essential element of IoT concerns seizing the moment of relevance. Your customers have strict deadlines, and delaying their shipments by even a day could damage the relationship between your company and theirs, impacting future revenues. IoT enables you to seize opportunities that were previously unavailable.

Having the right data is essential. IoT and sensors allow you to tap into the most relevant data and harness it for better decision-making. And having all these insights can completely transform the way that equipment is purchased, serviced and evaluated in the future as managers gain deeper insights into the inner workings of machines.

More importantly, customers will notice the value.  Shipments are always on time and the product is the quality that customers expect. Customers learn that they can trust your company to deliver. IoT opens the doors to greater revenue and sustainability in the future.


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