Machines, How Do You Feel Today?
Industrial IoT envisions a world where machines dialogue and factories become self-aware. Between this and today’s reality is Simon, the Production Manager who’s faced a 2nd breakdown in the last six months and wishes his factory was better equipped to welcome the future.
It’s Wednesday, and at Simon’s factory, the production plan goes as scheduled and everybody on the line is hands-on to maintain an efficient process.
As Simon settles into his office for a call with a supplier, an alarm goes off in Hall 1. One of the machines, the oven silo in charge of cooking the gypsum, has suddenly stopped working. Today, in Simon’s plant, line 11 will be down for a while.
He is the Production Manager in a factory that’s manufacturing drywall. The drywall batch scheduled for this week was an unplanned order taken from a client. Any delays in the production process have an immediate and high impact on the timely delivery of the shipment.
Simon likes to have everything under control and strict supervision, but this alarm is not new for him. Six months ago a similar breakdown happened, and it ended up costing him a late delivery and thousands of euros in penalties. And once again the same questions came forth:
Why did the machine fail?
Why hasn’t anybody identified a sign of a potential failure?
How long before the equipment is fixed?
How much will this downtime cost?
Will the product be delivered on time?
Simon’s situation speaks about a reactive business approach. If a machine breaks down in the middle of a production process, it points to a deeply unconnected factory.
Machines, devices, sensors, spare parts already carry a huge amount of data which could communicate and prevent sudden outages. But currently, most data are neither known nor used. For example, on an oil ring that has 30,000 sensors, only 1 percent of the data are examined.
Setting aside the promising future that the Internet of Things holds for industries such as manufacturing, mining, pharma or consumer goods, today, Simon cannot deny any longer that his factory’s productivity relies big time on their ability to embrace automation.
THE FACTORY OF NOW: Humans assisting machines
Simon didn’t have complete visibility of his plant’s equipment. Although providing sufficient information to make a decision of whether the factory is up to the unplanned order, the current overview was limited and couldn’t cover the industrial machinery details. This is one of the reasons the malfunction came as a surprise.
So, what happens in Simon’s Factory of Now?
Once alerted about the failure by the on-site team, Simon has the production line stopped, and the technician called in. As the technician inspects the machine, he realizes that the issue is beyond his expertise and calls the machine’s supplier tech department to ask for help. It takes a few hours for the service technician to come to the factory. Once on-site, he examines the machine and identifies the need for a new spare part, because the current one has broken due to overheating. Luckily, the spare part is in stock and can be replaced on the spot.
An intervention of this kind can take up to a day. Losing so many hours of production time has a significant impact on the overall efficiency. Simon’s plant could lose up to 20% of its productive capacity  due to this downtime and could cost the factory as much as $1 million an hour.
The oven is part of a larger chain of machines, each responsible for a production step. Having an outage affects the entire production roll-out, causing big delays on multiple supply chain stages: sorting, packaging, delivery, etc. Any lag in the manufacturing process creates a bottleneck and affects the next steps. In this situation, Simon will, without a doubt, face a delay in honoring the client’s order.
THE FACTORY OF THE FUTURE: Machines assisting humans
One of the significant changes that IoT makes in the traditional troubleshooting approach is equipping Simon with the necessary capabilities to know in advance when and if a machine could experience an issue and providing the better tools for when it happens unexpectedly.
Simon’s Factory of Now could operate differently in such a situation if it were more connected. To be able to react faster to market opportunities, asset availability and equipment productivity, Simon needs a comprehensive, detailed, and real-time view of the factory’s resources.
A connected factory would be more in control of the machines’ performance and would be able to prevent more efficiently critical situations such as breakdowns.
So, what would happen in Simon’s Factory of the Future?
Simon would be informed through an alert notification that the oven silo surpassed the normal parameters and is prone to overheating. Once this data reaches the assigned operators, the machine is accessed remotely, and its current and historical data is examined to establish the proper maintenance work. If the machine cannot be configured remotely, the on-site technician, assisted by a remote service operator, would use augmented and virtual reality tools to perform a guided machine inspection and carry out the necessary servicing work.
What would usually take Simon up to a day could be worked out in maybe half that time, winning a substantial amount of uptime for his production line and possibly avoiding shutting off the machine completely.
In the Factory of the Future an industrial machine must be able to self-diagnose, self-optimise and even start a process that engages different parts of the servicing operation in solving the emerged malfunction.
Simon acknowledges the urgency to retool the factory’s operational workflow with more connected products and systems. The ability to take decisions and actions in real-time becomes essential to a factory’s productivity and the overall equipment efficiency.
But shifting to a data-enabled production workflow through IoT is a two-sided responsibility. It requires thoughtfulness and effort from both the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEM) and their clients.
1 — Original Equipment Manufacturers
When OEMs start their digitalisation through IoT, they change the way their products are sold and the way clients operate in their environment. They have both the responsibility and the opportunity to improve customer productivity and efficiency through a more advanced, data-driven suite of products.
2 — Factories
Although the manufacturer’s primary concern is the cost of quality: uptime // productivity // efficiency, becoming a Factory of the Future requires more than an all-important goal. To augment their capabilities, companies need first of all to acknowledge the potential of digital advancement, evaluate their resources and needs, and take a step-by-step approach to their IoT strategy.
The willingness to recognize the importance of having a connected business will eventually pressure businesses to become more daring at adopting IoT. These will be the companies that will keep close the maintenance and productivity advantage that will define their future in the 4th Industrial Revolution.