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Manufacturing Reaches for Big IoT Payoffs

Mahamuni Oracle
Manufacturers are likely to be big winners from connected things. The IoT is poised to deliver trillions in value to manufacturing operations.

With all the talk about IoT wearables and smart facilities, the big winner in IoT connectivity is likely to be manufacturing. Research firm, ARC Advisory Group, has predicted that the Internet of Things (IoT) will deliver $3.88 trillion in value to manufacturers over the coming decade. Atul Mahamuni, VP of IoT at Oracle (photo right), explained the value of IoT in manufacturing in Cleveland last week at the Advanced Design and Manufacturing show.

In the session, "The Factory of the Future Today: Lessons Learned from Deploying IoT," Mahamuni spelled out some of the initial areas of savings companies are taking with connectivity.

“Manufacturing is leading IoT. That includes asset management and predictive maintenance. The goal is to get to zero downtime and to integrate what’s happening in the production to other areas of the organization,” said Mahamuni. “The kind of solutions we’re seeing deployed include monitoring equipment and bringing all the data in to get a baseline for the machine and for the whole plant.”

In some ways, it’s not surprising that manufacturing is getting significant value from connecting equipment and analyzing plant data. Plants began this work 20 years ago when data flowed through cables. Now that data is collected via wireless over inexpensive sensors, plants are collecting considerably more information on plant operations.

The First Step Is Gaining Visibility

Just because there is a flurry of noise about industrial IoT doesn’t mean it’s an easy deployment. The attendees at the session indicated during Q&A that many don’t know where to begin.

“IoT is at the top of the hype cycle, yet it is hard to do. There is a lack of clarity and the ROI is ambiguous. Where do you start? What is step one and two?” said Mahamuni. “The goal is to make IoT easy and drive business opportunities, but manufacturers need to get there with simple steps to develop outcomes that impact the business processes.”

Mahamuni noted that one of the first steps is to gain visibility into plant operations. Plant managers need to know what’s working well and what’s causing inefficiencies. “You want to see what’s happening on the factory floor. What are the robots doing well? What machines are working well, and are there any machines that are not performing well?” said Mahamuni. “You want to know where your problems are. What machines are most used and what machines are least used?”

Processing large amounts of data is new to most manufacturing operations, even though it’s not new to business. “We’ve been using this type of data in finance and medicine for years, and now it’s in manufacturing. With the data, you’re going to move from planned maintenance to predictive maintenance and on to historical data,” said Mahamuni. This also means using the data to catch a flaw before it stymies production. “Say you have a valve making chemicals and it doesn’t close properly. The value may be worth $100,000. It will tell you when it fails, but the plant people need to know before the valve fails.”

Long Term Gains from IoT

In the long run, Mahamuni expects plants to move beyond the early steps of preventive maintenance, equipment analytics, and asset management. “You have to reduce inefficiencies to improve factory operations, and you need a lot of data to do it. You need know what supplier is supplying the materials. Maybe the machine is fine but the materials are a problem,” said Mahamuni. “Also, you have to look at the operator. You need to know more than just the machine’s performance. You have to look at all that data in multiple dimensions.”

Connected data is poised to deliver more than an analysis of plant operations. The data may begin to contain overall plant and equipment knowledge. As the Boomers retire and walk out with their knowledge, software may replace that knowledge, thus mitigating the current brain drain in manufacturing. “We’re going to replace the aging workplace with a new workplace. We’re going to replace the knowledge of the aging workforce with data. The machine needs to get smarter,” said Mahamuni. “We don’t have the mental capacity of looking at billions of data points to see what’s relevant, but the software does.”

The plant connectivity also needs to extend beyond the manufacturing system, since the plant is part of a larger production ecosystem. “We have to integrate the manufacturing with the warehouse, with maintenance, and on to planning,” said Mahamuni. “If a truck is coming to pick up a shipment, its needs to know if there is a production delay. That needs to be automated so you have seamless connectivity in your production and plant.”

Rob Spiegel has covered automation and control for 17 years, 15 of them for Design News. Other topics he has covered include supply chain technology, alternative energy, and cyber security. For 10 years he was owner and publisher of the food magazine Chile Pepper.

Photo of Atul Mahamuni, VP of IoT and analytics at Oracle, by Design News.

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