The dilemma in implementing Industrial Internet of Things on manufacturing shop floors

The journey from a fundamental understanding of Industry 4.0 to actual implementation involves several carefully articulated steps to wither off disappointment later in the digital transformation journey

Rahul Sharma

A lot has been said about how Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) will bring about a paradigm shift in the way the manufacturing processes will be carried out. But why there is hesitation in the marketplace to embrace IIoT with open arms? Why the organizations are stopping at proof of concept and not taking that big leap? Is it fear of failure or rather fear of not realizing its full potential? Is there a confusion on where to start? Or is it the fear of showing return on investment (RoI) numbers to shareholders? Although these are important questions that the client organizations need to ask themselves but when the answers to these questions take an indefinite time coupled with aforementioned potential fears, the overall digital transformation via IIoT adoption delays.

Over the past couple of years, the awareness on ‘connected ecosystem on the shop floor’ has definitely increased. But the level of understanding is still evolving as we witness more use cases seeing the light of the day. The journey from a fundamental understanding of Industry 4.0 to actual implementation involves several carefully articulated steps to wither off disappointment later in the digital transformation journey. Few pointers worth mentioning are listed below:

  1. The decision makers in the organization must understand that there is a real danger to just stop at the understanding of various contributing technologies under IIoT framework. The entire process must take a shape of a formal strategy roadmap with actionable tasks and milestones. The management needs to have a skin in the game to start the process of digital transformation via IIoT and take it to its full potential. One of the ways for the management personnel to be ‘in the game’ is to form and be part of cross-functional groups comprising of people from various functions of the organization to focus on digital transformation via IIoT in specific identified areas on the shop floor.
  2. As clichéd it may sound but the definite objective of the transformation must be defined up front. Today, the problem may not be of dearth of data but of data overload. Hence, it becomes absolute imperative to define what we need to achieve in form of tangible and intangible benefits backed by numbers.
  3. One of the inhibiting factors towards IIoT that have been witnessed in the marketplace is the ownership of data and the entire process transformation journey. The fear of transformation journey stems from the ownership of it and the aftermath. IIoT should never be seen as a contribution of a single player but a collaborative approach of several players from client and platform provider to the hardware provider. Most ideally, the data generators should be part of the process owners wherein the process teams own the data.
  4. The client organization should create a conducive environment for its employees to understand the fourth industrial revolution. There can be an incubator that can be formed within the organization that promotes new ideas based on data and can be delivered via learning and development modules coupled with workshops. This way the change management that is associated with the IoT automation will become easier and the operators at the shop floor will be willing to contribute much more in the transformation journey.
  5. It makes sense to have one or maximum two people to be part of the team who understand data & analytics and the rest of the work should be driven by the technology partner. This will make sure that the cost of the transformation does not go upward into hiring a bunch of data scientist from the market and then to think about the avenues of utilizing them.
  6. For a successful digital transformation of the organization, it is important to think big but to start small. All the small initiatives must be directed towards achieving ‘that’ bigger goal. In organizations where the works are multi-geographical and the functions are fragmented, the bigger goal converges at making the enterprise ‘connected’ so that there is single piece of truth running across the entire organization. The proof of concept is a good start but it must translate to value outputs and hence realizing the full potential of the transformation.
  7. The client organizations which successfully implemented IIoT transformation on their shop floors may miss a critical point in the beginning of the process. The transformation must be thought from the scalability standpoint as well since once the transformation starts from a small area of the works, it is bound to eventually spread to other areas thereby joining the organization’s flow of information from design to customer and then finally to retire.
  8. Gone are the days when the customer feedback and complaints used to be the trigger point for making the changes in the product design or if they are not gone then they soon will be. Internet of things have implications not just on the cost side of the equation (shop floors, supply chain etc.) but also on the growth side of it (customer acquisition, finding new markets, mass customization, new revenue generating streams etc.). Any digital transformation project hence must think of ‘connecting’ the inputs from the customer and incorporating those in the shortest possible times.
  9. IoT ecosystem which essentially involves sensors, actuators, gateways, connectors etc. as the hardware must ensure that the data so generated is safe and secure. This, must I say, forms one of the biggest worries of the organization planning for a digital transformation via IIoT.
  10. The return on investment on digital projects must be seen from various dimensions. How much is the asset available now, how much is the asset utilization, is it possible to have remote monitoring, control and troubleshooting (which eventually helps in reducing the cost of sending the personnel at the site), by how much the energy bills have gone down etc. are few of the insights that the organization should look at before and after to arrive at the benefits in numbers.

It is quite apparent that IIoT has now become a reality from a mere concept on paper. The various inter-connectivity of various technologies such as IoT, LPWAN, Artificial Intelligence, Data & Analytics, Sensor Technology, AR/VR, 3D printing etc. has made it possible to take incremental steps towards making an organization a truly connected one.

Author: Rahul Sharma, Associate Director in a leading professional services firm

DISCLAIMER: The views expressed are solely of the author and DigiAnalysys does not necessarily subscribe to it. 

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