The Quickest Route to Intelligent Manufacturing, Part I

intelligence machine at industrial manufacture factory

First focus on solving problems faster

When industrial organizations begin to adopt Industry 4.0 technologies, to become intelligent manufacturers, it seems that too many focus on the hype and what’s possible in the future. They start thinking about how to connect and integrate every “thing” in the plant and try to implement projects they think will disrupt their industry. Others first consider which technology they should deploy. Ultimately, too many move forward without determining the goals they want to achieve or problems they’re trying to solve. 

While it’s essential to have in mind a vision of your future factory, that’s the goal, not the starting point. This new manufacturing era will no doubt give rise to entirely new operations and business models, just as with previous industrial revolutions. It will involve the connection of every machine and operations or business application throughout the business, from design to delivery, and include intuitive human-machine interfaces. Ultimately, the Industry 4.0 organization will seamlessly integrate cyber and physical systems. The question manufacturers have to answer is: “What’s the fastest way to become an intelligent manufacturer?”

Many companies that are leading the race to digitize their businesses say the answer is to begin with targeted, high-impact projects focused on data. More fundamentally, they advise that manufacturers start by identifying how the new technologies will help solve problems faster. As Martin Lorentzon, Spotify cofounder, once said, “The value of a company is the sum of the problems you solve together.” In manufacturing, if you can solve more problems faster than your competitors, you will reap higher margins, while charging lower prices and accelerating delivery—all while becoming more efficient. Increasing the speed of problem-solving is crucial for manufacturers to get to the next level. 

Becoming an intelligent manufacturer is about having people make better decisions and take actions faster. To begin the journey, focus on solving existing problems. Soon after that, you can start addressing issues you wouldn’t be able to without advanced analytics—but that’s the second stage of your journey and the topic of the next post. In practice, both require creating a data architecture that ensures that the right people get the right data and information at the right time. 

Data Analytics

The good news is that your facility has all the data you need to get started solving problems faster. It’s locked in existing systems, which include sensing and manipulating: PLCs and sensors; process monitoring: HMI and SCADA; production: MES and MOM; and business planning: ERP and others. The first step to becoming an intelligent manufacturer is to connect these systems, then model, structure, store, and analyze the data from them. By delivering this high-level information in easy-to-use, intuitive dashboards, shift supervisors and operations vice presidents will see what the problems are and what’s causing them. With this information, they can quickly determine opportunities for improvement.

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