Real-Time Operational Performance via the Internet of Things

Real-Time Operational Performance via the Internet of Things

By Jordan Workman, Director of Client Development, Performance Solutions by Milliken

Jordan Workman, Director of Client Development, Performance Solutions by Milliken

Manufacturers are racing to leverage the power of the Internet of Things (IoT)/ Industry 4.0 within their operations. In 2014, almost half of manufacturing executives hadn’t even heard of the IoT, and hardly any had a strategy to apply it within their organizations. Yet three years later, 59 percent of manufacturers have a strategy to apply IoT technologies to their companies’ processes—with 28 percent more planning a strategy. These leaders see the potential for the IoT to transform their companies’ practices and performances (see IoT Objectives).

Unfortunately, many of these executives won’t achieve the IoT gains they expect. Why? Because many of these manufacturers are utilizing inefficient production processes, besides aging and poorly maintained equipments. Using digital tools to connect and automate flawed operations isn’t a winning strategy and can easily exacerbate existing problems while creating new ones. Here are a few of the most common challenges we see:

• Machine limitations: Poorly maintained equipment is difficult—if not impossible—to upgrade for digitization. And even if smart devices can be integrated into unreliable machines, will the resulting data be similarly inconsistent?

• Disconnected processes: Applying intelligence and automation to a waste-laden process will simply create more waste at a faster pace. Inefficient workflows receiving real-time data and alerts will be challenged to respond to those false signals. Companies may inconveniently learn that an even larger capital equipment investment is required to derive value from the technology.

• Security concerns: Many older machines already incorporate some embedded intelligence (e.g., controls, sensors), which share basic information within a plant. Implementing an IoT strategy, however, requires connecting this legacy equipment securely to newer enterprise systems and applications—a security risk many companies aren’t ready to take.

The IoT promises improvements delivered at the speed of light. Are you ready?

• Resistant culture: Digitization doesn’t mean “lights-out,” workerless operations. Will disengaged frontline staff react differently to real-time information than they do to voice and paper instructions? Should we expect them to?

• Firefighter fears: If a plant is led by command-and-control managers, will they relinquish control to digitized decision-making to achieve the promised efficiencies? Or will they continue old habits by making sure that only they have access to IoT insights and the power to “fix” problems?

• A flood of unverified data: Is it the signal or noise? Will the manufacturing team find newly available real-time data, reliable? Executives may grow weary of sorting through vast volumes of information—in part because they’re skeptical about the quality data already generated by poorly maintained equipment, antiquated devices, and faulty processes.

"The IoT promises improvements delivered at the speed of light. Are you ready?"

Fortunately, there’s a fix: manufacturers can improve their operations before they implement an IoT strategy, boosting operational performances and profits now even as they plan for IoT success later. Successful companies follow a four-step progression to stabilize and improve underperforming processes— and prepare them for IoT integration:

1. Model for improvement and IoT: Leaders identify areas within a plant or plants where performance can be improved, which serve as models for the rest of the organization. These areas and the employees will model best practices in implementing a performance management system, developing standardized work, and embedding the IoT (e.g., incorporating smart devices, sharing data with the plant and company).

2. Process improvement: Plant managers and frontline associates work to improve processes (e.g., engage in problem-solving and improvement projects, apply standardized work, improve safety and environmental conditions, eliminate wastes and losses) and integrate a performance management system into day-to-day operations.

3. Machine reliability: Production management and staff concurrently work to improve equipment reliability while evaluating current smart devices in the area. Which are the devices still capable and reliable, and where should new intelligence be embedded?

4. Digitization: Last but not least, embedded intelligence and secure network technologies are incorporated into model areas after processes have been improved, equipment is reliable, and the workforce has been engaged, educated, and empowered.

Gains made in the model area are then replicated to other plant areas and then other plants. As the reach of operational and IoT improvements expands, so does the ability of corporate and plant management to leverage real-time IoT insights.

Performance Solutions by Milliken, the consulting division of Milliken & Company, has helped hundreds of plants develop high-performing models and replicate improvements throughout their organizations. Increasingly, the application of IoT technologies and digitization is a major component of that transformation, leading to an enhanced ability to monitor and improve operations; improve scheduling of operations and the supply chain; share value-adding information with customers and suppliers; and improve strategic decision-making, such as the allocation of capital expenditures and product, plant, and workforce plans.

The IoT promises improvements delivered at the speed of light. Are you ready?

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