Moving From "Smart" To "Productive" In The Connected Revolution
Mark Humphlett | Industrial Maintenance & Plant Operation
Everything's coming up "smart" these days. And every industry is feeling out how connected systems and products will transform how they operate -- and more importantly, how to ensure transformation spells improvement. In manufacturing, sensor-based technology is enabling a massive influx of contextual data that can be applied to a wide range of exciting, disruptive activities, such as predictive analytics, automated maintenance and machine learning. These kinds of revolutionary changes are generating excitement throughout the industry. But, beyond just the hype, smart technologies also have immense power to address some of the fundamentals of manufacturing, like productivity, efficiency and customer service -- in a pretty revolutionary way.
While the "white space" is often the focus of conversations on how to use digital technologies and Internet of Things (IoT), the financial return on these kinds of innovation are often unclear at the start. However, the strategic application of smart and connected technologies in manufacturing can produce almost immediate gains and ROI and, in essence, fund the longer-term efforts. Some short-term payback will help justify the investment to internal stakeholders and decision-makers. The tangible benefits of smart technology's use in fundamental aspects of business operations is also measurable through the stage of transformation, showing value before the project is even complete.
Productivity gains are among the "low-hanging fruit" of IoT. Increasing workforce productivity can be as simple as empowering workers with easy access to the data they need to make decisions based on objective and real-time facts, not estimates based on out-of-date information. In this way, managers can be more strategic, front-line users can be more efficient, and various departments can see how their roles impact the bottom line. When all stakeholders are connected and have line of sight into the big picture as well as the details of a particular incident, everyone works better together.
Smart technology also helps to optimize shop floor processes. Embedding sensors in machinery allows maintenance teams to monitor the status of equipment on the shop floor and automate preventive maintenance. Sensors can monitor common early warning signs of trouble, including changes in temperature, vibration and pressure. The technology enables alerts when certain trigger points are reached, and these are then sent to the maintenance team for intervention. Early intervention contributes to the overall reduction of unexpected downtime.
With data on maintenance and break-fix repairs, manufacturers can predict precisely which spare parts will be needed, when and where. This drives cost-savings as more accurate predictions eliminates unnecessary inventory. The savings can be quite substantial, especially in industries with very costly components, such as IM&E or A&D, and this frees up capital for other investments.
Using sensors and GPS tracking with material handling equipment and vehicle fleets in the warehouse provides near immediate return on investment. Precisely locating where goods, vehicles and people are assists in managing projects, and creates savings as well. This kind of data improves accuracy in inventory and shipping, and tracking service vehicles and delivery vans helps with routing and predicting delivery times. The ability to verify the data also eliminates discrepancies and improves productivity.
The Investment Pays Off
Smart technologies are revolutionizing everything, with many applications and benefits that have yet to be realized. While disruptive innovations promise gains and new opportunities, they remain untested. However, there are benefits to the fundamentals of business, like manufacturing, which stand to gain from these advances now. Improvements to productivity and efficiency are within reach, and provide fast ROI, reinforcing their practical value. These short-term successes will fund and facilitate investments and improvements down the line as the technologies progress. So, for those who integrate IoT in their processes now, the technology won't be the only one that's "smart."
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