The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is powered by more than a decade’s worth of research and investment in Industry 4.0 technologies. All coming to fruition as access to AI-powered analytics, 5G networks and smart devices, robots and industrial automation become the enterprise norm.
The combination of all these technologies is important for future success, yet this evolution acts as a challenge for many established businesses. They often find leaders in production environments who don’t like IT taking control of their services, while IT departments often resist having equipment and services foisted upon them by OT teams.
The need for convergence becomes critical for a harmonious and efficient business, and as IIoT trickles down to affect smaller companies, it will become an issue for every type of production business.
The importance of IIoT convergence
All businesses will see their IT and OT functions combine over time into a singular entity. One capable of providing live reporting, analytics and providing autonomous production with largely automated management tools.
In a truly IIoT environment, a smart supply chain could deliver the most cost-efficient or available sources of materials or parts. The production line could adjust to cater for new or improved components as they become available. And as demand changes, lines could transition to prioritize one product or variation (size, colour, type or quality) over another.
Streamlining a business to operate like this may sound a challenge, and requires expanded roles or thinking from the top of the organization down. Barriers between IT and OT need to come down, even as many senior roles are already changing. For example, most CIOs are in charge of much more than the traditional collection of servers and routers.
Similarly, operations managers need to be more fully conversant with supply chain and the technology side of factory or production machinery as the IIoT demands an integrated approach in place before it can function.
Leaders need to develop or hire convergence-focused business knowledge and skills to help the business develop a joined-up approach. While the level of urgency may depend upon the market and area of operations, these are technologies that need to be studied now.
How to streamline IIoT convergence
Businesses should reevaluate their existing manufacturing processes, and check that factories or plants are ready for IIoT. Start by running trials and piloting capabilities that help improve your processes and build strength in IIoT platforms, adopting further technologies as they fit into your roadmap.
As part of the roadmap, check competitors and the market landscape for deployments and examples where other manufacturers adopt IIoT and smart manufacturing solutions beyond typical use cases of data collection and analytics to see what leading and future smart factories can achieve.
Daimler/Mercedes Benz case study
A leading example is Daimler/Mercedes Benz, who are already developing facilities that use cutting edge IIoT to incorporate digitalization, robotics and artificial intelligence across their entire value chain. Their "Active Research Environment for the Next Generation of Automobiles" (ARENA2036) helps describe the physical and digital processes that are becoming increasingly intertwined, which includes networking with customers.
Moving forward with the IIoT
Companies in any market will need a similar set of goals or principles to drive their decision making and business transformation. Fortunately, there is a groundswell of reports and evidence to help build a custom path to success. At the highest level, companies should seek flexibility and speed to drive efficiency, while using data to inform decision making and reinforce that efficiency.
Below the high level, business leaders need to drive decisions that see all machines, production tools, devices and manual workers connected to an IIoT. This will help the business develop powerful capabilities that can improve results and drive further digital transformation.
On the factory or production floor this approach requires devices that have the speed and bandwidth to provide live information. Networks using 5G can provide the bandwidth for thousands of data sources. Edge processing services can curate the bulk data flow, down to analytics essentials for live reporting while advanced autonomous or managed devices can flexibly respond to demand and changing circumstances.
The IIoT is already happening, with changes in how businesses function. Schneider’s engineer-to-order solar panel factory in Indonesia is one example where customers have greater control over production, while equipment as a service will change how factories are built, managed and paid for over time.
All of these technologies and associated business practices create huge opportunities for manufacturers, but leaders need to act now to streamline their processes and thinking to be ready for the IIoT age.