IoT: Driving Change in Manufacturing


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In our new manufacturing environment where trends such as data, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI) are proliferating, there are numerous strategies and tactics—predictive analytics, new OEM/supplier collaborative innovation models, technology platforms that support real-time business intelligence, and resilient and transparent supply chains that create virtual, vertically integrated manufacturing networks—that global manufacturing companies can deploy to capitalize on new market opportunities and stay ahead of their competition.

Enabling these strategies are key transformative technologies such as big data, analytics, and the Internet of Things (IoT). There are two categories for IoT: consumer and industrial. In the consumer space, imagine yourself arriving home from work. As you reach the curb in front of your home, your car will send a signal to your garage door to open. As you enter your home, your network will detect your presence and immediately turn on specific appliances, such as lights, the TV or stereo, air-conditioning unit, or whatever it has been programmed to do. As you sit down to relax, you eye your tablet resting nearby, and thinking about the workout you did earlier that day, you transfer the data collected by your smart watch to have a full view of overall impact of that workout on your health statistics. That’s just a simple example of how the consumer IoT can function.

The industrial IoT, on the other hand, describes an integrated system of systems where sensors and actuators provide specific data such as measurements, timing, and equipment status, to name a few, all connected and visible throughout the enterprise. This is where the convergence of operations technology (OT) in the factory floor with information technology (IT) in the enterprise happens, all working together towards a single purpose—a more-efficient, profitable and successful manufacturing operation. With industrial IoT, companies will be able to view real-time data on their manufacturing processes, and compare performance across their plants, or even shifts within their plants. With industrial IoT, they can also quickly scale their production up or down; manage their energy consumption; and manage, troubleshoot and fix their processes and plants, even when they are located around the world.

Still, most people continue to be confused when it comes to IoT.

According to Michael Ford, the European marketing director for Aegis Industrial Software Corp., "If you think about what IoT is, people’s expectation is that we can exchange data between devices, obviously systems, quite like you would look up things on the Internet. And the technologies for creating the transported data between these systems make it easy to do. I mean, any software developer can go online, have a look at a couple of live bus controller units (BCUs) and set up a genuine IoT kind of communication protocol, maybe a device or two. There’s no end of things that they can create. I was at a trade show recently in Italy, and there were many different stands there, each of them showing their own IoT solution that they’d been creating. They were advertising things like taking data into the cloud, or sharing data with people, etc. And in all those cases, it was simply that there was a mechanism for moving data from one place to another. This isn’t groundbreaking technology; you could send it on USB sticks or email. There are so many different ways of doing it. So, I think that people are jumping on it kind of like a bandwagon, seeing that IoT is a popular technology and trying to create solutions that are IoT, but in actual fact are simply new ways of transferring the same data as we’ve been transferring before."

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More and more equipment manufacturers are promoting Industry 4.0-capable solutions—and in a way, IoT can be seen as an element of Industry 4.0. The idea behind it is that factories would evolve to be able to be a lot more flexible, to be able to make the products that customers want, basically at any time that they need. In this manufacturing vision, customers can call their manufacturers about how many products they want, almost on a day-by-day basis. That must be achieved without accumulating stock, because anybody could build a load, put them in the warehouse and then call them off as needed—but then you’ve got the added cost of warehousing and risk of depreciation while they’re being stored there. So, the idea of Industry 4.0 is that factories will be flexible.

"Now, this flexibility comes at a cost, because everyone in the SMT industry knows that the higher the mix of product, the lower the overall productivity of the machines," says Ford. "Looking at how that works, we see that people are using Excel spreadsheets to do planning, and we’re seeing a lot of manual intervention in the decision making about what products should be made. And this is where the delays come in and why we are not able to optimize our factories for high-mix production."

On the other hand, Ford explains that if computers were able to make the decisions based on the data that's coming to them about the status and the progress and all of the things going on that support production, like the supply chain and tools, and if a computer could see that information and it was accurate and reliable, then it is in a position to start making a decision that previously people were making. "So, instead of people having meetings and sending emails and engaging in discussions and arguments in the canteen or around the water cooler, over the course of hours, days or even weeks, the computer can make a decision within seconds. Now, the key element to drive this is that that decision must be based on good information, and that information must be accurate and timely."

As we all know, Ford has been instrumental in promoting the IPC Connected Factory Exchange (CFX) Initiative, an electronics manufacturing industry developed standard forming the foundation/backbone of Industry 4.0 applications. IPC-CFX simplifies and standardizes machine-to-machine communication while also facilitating machine to business/business to machine solutions.

To read the full article, which appeared in the September 2018 issue of SMT007 Magazine, click here.

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