Internet of Things, Cloud, Mobile, and Data Analytics: A Perfect Storm for Manufacturing   Mark Shortt


Cloud is Key to Data Driven, Smart Manufacturing

Mobility has come to manufacturing, and we can expect to see a lot more of it. The ability to access real-time data on a vertical or horizontal machining center, an injection molding operation, or a stamping press—on demand—no longer depends upon being physically present within the four walls of your facility.

A number of trends, including the rapidly expanding Internet of Things (IoT), increasing adoption of cloud-based, or Internet-enabled software platforms, pervasive use of mobile technologies, and growing interest in data analytics, are responsible for enabling engineers, managers, and other factory personnel to check in on part status or machine utilization from home, or even from the beach. The power of information technology (IT), particularly in the area of cloud-based data analytics, is at the heart of these still nascent capabilities.  

The research and consulting services firm IDC Manufacturing Insights predicts that manufacturers will invest in IT’s ability to deliver five critical capabilities to their businesses—the ability to engage with customers; increasing the speed at which manufacturers deliver products and services; how manufacturers innovate; manufacturers’ resiliency; and the reliability of manufacturer’s operations. IDC Manufacturing Insights has identified four major areas, or what it calls “the four pillars”—big data and analytics, cloud, mobile, and social/collaboration tools—that have generated increased interest among manufacturers. In its report “2014 Top 10 Emerging Agenda Predictions for Manufacturers” (Doc # MI245079), IDC Manufacturing Insights predicts how manufacturers will invest in “the four pillars” to support these critical capabilities.

Mobile, on-demand access to real-time manufacturing information is a sign of things to come in the area of Smart Manufacturing, which is described by the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition (SMLC) as “manufacturing in which all information is available when it is needed, where it is needed, and in the form it is most useful—infusing manufacturing intelligence throughout the lifecycle of design, engineering, planning, and production.”

According to the report “Implementing 21st Century Smart Manufacturing,” a summary report from SMLC, a number of factors, including intense global competition, uncertainties surrounding the cost and supply of energy, and exponential growth in information technology, are “shifting industries toward agile, just in time processing, high-performance manufacturing, and accelerated introduction of new products.”

In response to these trends, SMLC is working to develop a cloud-based, shared infrastructure to support the commercialization of Smart Manufacturing (SM) systems, which integrate manufacturing intelligence in real time across entire production operations and supply chains. Besides reducing time to market, smart manufacturing systems are built to enable greater flexibility in manufacturing and more agile response to consumer demand.  Today, smart manufacturing systems are rare in large companies, and “virtually non-existent in small and medium size organizations,” according to SMLC, which was founded to overcome the costs and risks associated with the commercialization of smart manufacturing systems.  For more on smart manufacturing, see Laying the Groundwork for Factories of the Future.

How does the Internet of Things (IoT) fit into smart manufacturing? The IoT, growing larger by the hour, is an emerging network of devices, products, and equipment that are connected to the Internet. Its connectivity and ability to communicate advanced sensor-based data is a necessary foundation for smart manufacturing systems, which depend upon the connectivity of machines to communicate sensor-based information and data-driven manufacturing intelligence in real time across the factory and supply chain.

On the other side of Smart Manufacturing is the cloud, the key to unlocking access to relevant data-rich information and analysis in real time. More and more companies are migrating to the cloud as an option for acquiring data and analytical capabilities without having to physically acquire all of the IT capabilities in their own data centers. All that’s needed is a web browser to have faster, less expensive access to real-time product and machine data from anywhere in the world.

And don’t think for a minute that manufacturers don’t consider that data—everything from location, to time stamps, to data representing a part or product’s condition at any point in time—to be valuable. Just check the web to see the exploding demand for data scientists and others who are well versed in the ways of advanced data analytics. It’s a field that has paid big dividends in professional sports, such as major league baseball and NBA basketball, and has also achieved prominence in the medical, financial, and retail sectors. Now, the manufacturing sector finds itself competing with other industries to corral top-level talent.


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