FAQs on connected manufacturing value chain
Manufacturers are continuously working on reducing costs and increasing productivity, arguably perfecting their operations, but the industry has yet to reach its full potential. Internet of Things (IoT) powered solutions might be the answer to reach untapped performance, variability, sustainability and more. This means making sure each disparate component within the manufacturing value chain is connected and devices, users, stakeholders and more are all seamlessly communicating.
But there are a few serious questions that come up as practitioners consider pursuing this transformation. In CIO Talk Radio’s podcast “Making the Most of the Manufacturing Value Chain,” two practitioners, namely Jim Wetzel, Technical Director for the Platform Center of Excellence with General Mills, and Jim Davis, the Vice Provost of IT and Chief Academic Technology Officer with University of California, Los Angeles, help us get clarity on three of the most pressing questions.
Is IoT really a panacea for connecting the manufacturing value chain?
Before the IoT, it was expensive and took a lot of technical expertise and effort, to get all players and entities of the value chain connected. Now being able to connect everyone in a cheaper and more standardized way, we can optimize information flows and consequently optimize performance, sustainability, etc.
“However, IoT alone will not solve manufacturing’s challenges but it will enable us to solve them. We also need a better platform that allows all the different applications and solutions to be knitted together”, Wetzel said on CIO Talk Radio’s podcast. He raised a dilemma that one solution provider might be the best in class at a given application, say optimizing inventory, but they can’t integrate it in the existing applications and solutions in a manufacturer’s ecosystem. According to Wetzel, the best way to solve this dilemma is to create an IoT platform that knits all that together and enables the communication and collaboration between all of them.
You might be asking yourself, what is that platform? Davis and Wetzel had thoughts here as well.
Could an open architecture be a strong platform for connecting the manufacturing value chain and running the IoT?
For one thing, an IoT solution may not fix the problem manufacturers have if they don’t have the platform to run it. For another thing, smaller companies and value chain players don’t really have access to all the necessary technology and resources. Davis proposed the idea of an open architecture. Make IoT technology accessible to small and medium sized companies that haven’t had the opportunity to invest to cover the full gamut of what’s necessary.
“The notion of open architecture is to build this platform in a way that provides full access: access to technologies at the level that you need them, at the time that you need them and with the sophistication relative to the problem that you are trying to deal with,” Davis said.
“Another aspect of open architecture is the exposure and usage of data through applications and various tools. We believe that providing access to data – obviously neither IP nor proprietary data – at an appropriate level, will also help the industry in a significant way and will generate those dollars companies need to invest to take this on and go much, much further.”
What are possible pitfalls that could hinder a value chain player from reaching the ideal state?
The first thing, Davis recommends, is to set a business objective. In the whole process connecting all devices and setting up your network, companies tend to forget thinking about what they really want to accomplish by introducing a new technology. Another pitfall Davis sees is that companies might be using technology that is too sophisticated even though the companies aren’t yet ready to use it. In what Davis calls the matter of readiness, he recommends to rather use simpler technology, which can still generate really significant benefit. Anything else might turn out to be a quite risky endeavor. And then there is always the matter of cyber security which should be part of every company’s agenda that is using web-based technologies.
Wetzel went on and raised two more topics, one of which being data accuracy. What if the information that is being transferred over the pipe and that we act on, in this ideal future world, is actually wrong? “I am now going to respond to a sensor signal that is connected via the IoT. It is connected to the rest of my value chain but it is potentially sending wrong information. So, how do we balance the technology with the people in the process? This is an issue that definitely needs to be solved”, Wetzel points out.
And ultimately there are all those other problems a connected digital enterprise or just any new technology might generate, but that we don’t know about yet. Solving old problems usually results in generating some new problems.
What other challenges do you see and how would you specifically address them?