Connected Manufacturing with Internet of Things

Anuj Bhalla

Steven Morris, CEO of a large pharmaceutical company, is attending a seminar in the United States when his smartphone app pops up with an alert that there could be a probable loss of $2 million to his company today due to a production issue in one of his manufacturing plants in China. A few taps on his smartphone tells him that this is due to a breakdown in one of the machines on which today’s production is scheduled. Not the one to wait, he calls up his head of manufacturing, Ian Richards, who is already working on the issue, thanks to the real-time alerts that he too received on his tablet. Ian works with the plant’s production team and routes the order to a standby machine in the same plant. The production order is executed as per plan and the order is shipped to the customer with no delays. Steven is a happy man, his investments in IoT (Internet of Things) platform have paid off.

Operational Challenges

But the journey has not been easy. Just about a year ago, the company was struggling with operational issues and regulatory non-compliances in its manufacturing plants. There was no visibility into the operations and hence the decisions were delayed. The decisions for visible issues were post-facto and based on experiences or hunches rather than with real data.

Also read: Why SDI is a growing business imperative

The sales, production, engineering, quality, planning and other teams were working in silos with little or no collaboration. The ever dividing gap between OT and IT systems were preventing seamless integration of people, processes, products, machines, suppliers and systems. The need of the hour was the unification of all these on a common platform. Internet of Things (IoT) proved to be that enabling platform that would connect all the items in the physical world to the Internet using wired or wireless connections and would provide real-time operational visibility and collaboration, thus creating a Connected Manufacturing Plant. Sensors/Devices connected to the automation systems like PLC, DCS etc. of the machines, energy meters etc. will fetch data, curate the data and through internet gateways pass them onto applications that will process the data and provide real-time insights by way of decision reports/dashboard on smartphones/tablets/desktops to the various stakeholders. The business applications and analytics layer can be hosted on on-premise servers, private or public cloud. The entire system will be governed by the data security and access governance policies to prevent data pilferages and unauthorized access.             

Some of the benefits of connected manufacturing in addressing operational challenges are:

1. Cost Savings by reducing wastage and streamlining processes

2. Remote access for informed and faster decision making

3. Improved productivity by cost reduction and improved efficiency

4. Reduced machine downtime by enabling predictive maintenance

5. Sustainable operations by improved energy & utilities management

6. Improved asset utilization

7. Adherence to regulatory compliances & s


Connected Supply Chain

The benefits and impact of IoT don’t just end with improving manufacturing perational effectiveness. It extends to connecting the larger supply chain to the manufacturing operations thus enabling exchange of real-time information across the entire value chain. Traditionally, manufacturing companies have struggled in integrating manufacturing with supply chain largely due to interoperability issues between the systems in plants and the supply chain.

IoT-based systems are now enabling end-to-end digital integration across the value chain. The data generated from sensors connected in Inventory Warehouses and Products & Fleet Management vehicles and Material Consumption, Supplier & Distribution systems can be transmitted to a common IoT platform on the cloud. The data from these systems are collated and processed with the plant data in the cloud to empower plant users and external suppliers & distributors with real-time reports and notifications.

Some of the benefits of Connected Supply Chain are:

1. Real time Raw Material and Product Information at all levels

2. Faster Time to Market

3. Reduced Production Outages

4. Reduced Downtime and WIP

Connected Products

Manufacturing firms worldwide, producing similar products, have high level of automation in their plants and similar sophisticated machinery. With little to differentiate from their competition, these firms are struggling to be agile & lean in their strategic maneuverability and innovative in creating new business models and products. While connected manufacturing plant and supply chain helps to save costs, firms nowadays are also looking at improving their topline growth by introducing new revenue models, price leadership and product differentiation. These are possible if the firms get closer to the customer and understand customer consumption patterns and product/service experiences. Smart connected products now have embedded sensors, hardware, data storage, software and connectivity modules that transmit data on product usage and customer experiences to a central remote IoT platform where this data is combined with data from enterprise systems and other external systems to derive insights into the execution framework of the firm’s operations, business models, products/services and ultimately strategy.

Some of the benefits of Connected Products are:

1. Reduced dependencies on distribution and service partners

2. Enhanced Customer Loyalty by offering Proactive Services

3. Quality Improvement in Future Products

4. Invention of new Business Models/Products

Looking Ahead with IoT

Manufacturing Organizations can take the following steps to enable IoT in their operational and strategic landscape:

· Step1: Understand the current challenges & improvement areas in operations, supply chain & product strategies

· Step 2: Define measures by way of KPIs that can unambiguously measure the performance of the improvements areas

*  Step 3: Define IoT vision for the organization

o Understand what data would be required to define these KPIs

o   Analyze the floor or supply chain to understand the collection sources of this data e.g. PLCs in machines, sensors in warehouses, enterprise systems etc.

o   Define who would need what data and when

o   Define the scalability, security & risk management requirements of the platform

 · Step 4: Deployment & execution of the IoT platform

o   Deploy an IoT platform that can enable this vision

o   Execute the vision in phases/pilots and measure the business impact

·  Step 5: Rollout the IoT platform

o Unleash the IoT platform across the entire organization

o Measure the overall impact

o Continuous improvement

(* Names used are fictitious)


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