Internet of Things

How will IoT and Analytics Impact the Future of Manufacturing?

By | Internet of Things

This article was originally published in Industry Week, click here to read original article.

What Role Will Big Data Analytics and AI Play in the Future of Lean Manufacturing?

Ask the Expert: Lean Leadership’s Larry Fast says manufacturing is on the cusp of a new age.
“We’ll all be wise to sign up and help make it happen.”

By Larry Fast

Question: What role do you view big data analytics and AI playing in the future of lean manufacturing?

Answer: Wow, this question came out of the sky. Not in my wheelhouse. My initial reaction was, “How in the world would I know? I have enough trouble keeping up with the lingo, e.g., IoT, big data analytics, AI (artificial intelligence) and a partridge in a pear tree!” But then I reached out to a good friend in Chicago, John Shelby, who recently completed his master’s degree in analytics at Notre Dame. I asked if he could educate me in plain English on the question posed. He shot me a link to a McKinsey study in which they are tracking their 2011 forecast of how these evolving technologies would impact retail, supply chains, healthcare and, yes, manufacturing.

John’s input helped me understand the difference between “lights out” manufacturing operations versus AI. In the case of “lights out,” it is an advanced state of operations where machines run with no human interaction, i.e. “robots.” This has been done modestly in factories the last several years but has not yet been widely adopted. The machines are programmed by humans and are still subject to human inefficiencies.

In some forms of AI, on the other hand, machines can actually teach themselves how to optimize their performance as they can run through various scenarios at lightning speeds, identify the best processes and train themselves to achieve a desired outcome. Talk about a brain stretch! I think it’s likely that AI will ultimately be the real game changer in the factories once new ERP platforms are in place, but this may still be a decade or more away. But imagine manufacturing companies that can absolutely guarantee 6 sigma, every time, on the customers’ critical-to-quality requirements. If your company is among the leaders in achieving this kind of breakthrough, what would that be worth to your company in terms of increased market share, low costs, perfect service, operating margin, shareholder value?

This all sounds like Star Wars hype to me. This scenario is likely a decade or more away. What I want to know is this: Can any of this technology be applied where I’m most comfortable, i.e., in a factory, on the shop floor? What can manufacturing leaders do with this thinking and application on a practical basis?

As John and I had a back and forth on these topics, he pointed out that big data analytics has been around for a decade or more and, while it continues to expand, storage is cheap and readily available and should represent no barrier to moving forward. That’s when my lightbulb started to come on more brightly, and it hit me that the issues for big data and IoT are more along the lines of outdated thinking in the programming of ERP systems.

Corporations are still spending untold millions of dollars buying “new” ERP systems that still rely mostly on traditional thinking and reporting. Further, report formatting, because of the same outdated thinking, isn’t structured in a way to get actionable, real-time reporting. Why can’t the ERP system simply be linked to the machine’s PLC and provide data in real time? Or must we always have a secondary system, often not integrated with anything else, to have what shop floor people need to more effectively manage the business minute by minute, hour by hour?

Historical reporting is of no value on the shop floor. We can’t fix yesterday or last week or last month — or even the last hour. We need to know if we’re making the numbers in real time. I wish I could look around corners and know if this is about to change. What will the next generation of ERP systems design look and act like?

It is a real brain stretch trying to think about the possibilities of how we might use these developing technologies in the coming years of manufacturing. These developing technologies and their implementation will be the next big paradigm shift that will cause manufacturing companies to either take a huge leap forward or else be left in the competitions’ dust.

I hope our readers find this prospect as thought-provoking as I have. It starts a conversation in each company whose time has come and, yes, it’s a bit overwhelming to contemplate right now. But now is the time for all C-Suite leaders to follow these technologies carefully, partner up with thought leaders in this area, and strategize how to be among the companies who get up to speed early and commit to the new technology — in fact, even help develop it. Some recognizable manufacturing names like Rockwell, GE and Siemens are already out front. Frankly, our software friends need manufacturing practitioners’ input desperately to maximize the potential of the technology. Throwing the next release over the wall without our input would be a serious mistake. But aren’t the prospects exciting?

Interestingly, I just returned from the AME (Association for Manufacturing Excellence) International Conference in Boston and had a wonderful chat with a representative of a company called MCA Connect. I was attracted to their booth when I saw a bullet point that said: The “Voice of the Operator.” They are partnering with Microsoft and designing a system that enables easy data migration, i.e., that allows you to pull in traditional manufacturing data from any ERP system, convert it into lean manufacturing data and assign it to the right fields in their “Dynamics 365 for Finance and Operations,” built with lean manufacturers in mind.

I asked a couple of penetrating questions that hadn’t yet been considered in the system design (reread comment above about seeking practitioner input). In fact, the system they showed me had been hurried along so they could introduce it at the AME conference. But it has great promise. I asked to see scrap information, OEE, etc., and got a clean dashboard of color-coded metrics. I looked at some causes of availability problems in the OEE data and saw specific maintenance issues that had been identified. Tremendous potential. Oh yes, and we need to add one more acronym to our vocabulary, i.e., IIoT, Industrial Internet of Things.

My excitement calmed when reality set in and I realized this: While the potential is enormous, it will only be fully realized when the software writers of ERP systems catch up with current thinking. Why? Because using this slick new access tool to tap into the wrongly designed ERP system data will simply give manufacturing the same wrong information at the speed of light. ERP programs must be redesigned and cleaned up in concert with these new access systems. In fact, one might wonder why access programs would even be required if the ERP systems provided the same capability? In any case, until ERP programs smash long-standing paradigms and catch up with state-of-the-art manufacturing needs, they will continue to represent a formidable constraint to achieving the full impact of the improvement potential that is now obviously possible.

Yeah, I know, it still sounds like a Star Wars kind of fiction. But here is the information I picked up at the MCA Connect booth:

  • 79% of companies have started an IoT initiative.
  • 44% of manufacturers have a defined digital strategy.
  • 47% believe their business model will be obsolete in three years.
  • 89% see customer experience as a basis of competition.

I wonder how many of us will be ready when the Star Wars world becomes reality in the next few years. At first, just thinking about this gave me a headache. But the more I thought about the possibilities, I was overcome with excitement and optimism that manufacturing is on the cusp of a new age. We’ll all be wise to sign up and help make it happen.

“Those that say it can’t be done need to get out of the way of the people who are already doing it.” – Joel Barker, futurist and author

Larry Fast is founder and president of Pathways to Manufacturing Excellence and a veteran of 35 years in the wire and cable industry. He is the author of The 12 Principles of Manufacturing Excellence: A Leader’s Guide to Achieving and Sustaining Excellence.

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How to Get Started with IoT

By | Internet of Things

The key to launching your first IoT project is to start small.

IoT devices (Internet of Things) are taking the manufacturing world by storm. At Industry of Things World 2017, we were proud to take the stage along with Dell Technologies and Microsoft to share how Dell Technologies approached their first couple of IoT projects.

Talking to participants at the show, we realized that many manufacturing companies are feeling overwhelmed by all of the options and opportunities that IoT presents.  In a prior blog post, I shared 5 Key IOT Takeaways that we learned from Dell’s IoT implementation. But if I could give just one piece of advice, I would say… start small!

Starting small is the key to starting an IoT project

So many people envision using IoT for these massive million dollar MES replacement projects, where the IoT sensor is used to route materials down the assembly line. Getting funding and approval for a project of that scope and scale is going to be very difficult and comes with a lot of risk.

Instead, I would encourage you to find a very small scale project that has low expense, low risk and high value to the organization.  And rather than thinking about IoT in terms of having the device “take action”, think about the data you’d like to collect. How can you use that new information to improve efficiency?

Author: Doug Bulla, VP – ERP Business Development

Learn How Dell Transformed Operations with IoT

Watch our 30-minute recorded Keynote presentation from Industry of Things World Conference to hear Dell’s full story.

View IoT Keynote Recording

3 Technology Trends Giving Manufacturing Executives Shop Floor Insight

By | ERP, Internet of Things, Manufacturing

In a rivalry as old as time, management and workers each think they know what’s REALLY going on in a manufacturing plant. The manufacturing management team has business analytics and dashboards. Workers have their own personal experience about how the factory is functioning.

In fact, in the acclaimed manufacturing study by Sidney Yoshida, “The Iceberg of Ignorance,” they found that factory workers were aware of 100% of shop floor issues where they were involved in the process – and frequently they also had a solution.  Executives and management knew much less about each individual situation, but were also handling a wider variety of issues.

Get close to the problem

Experienced manufacturing management teams know that they sometimes need to get out from behind their desk and walk the production floor. These executives regularly solicit input from their best workers to find out what’s not working – and what might be the cause.

When “the walk” becomes impractical

Today’s global manufacturing enterprises frequently have factories spread across the world, making a tour of production facilities expensive and inefficient. Plus, in each plant, there may be hundreds of issues that come up on a daily basis. The point of having shift managers, production managers and facility managers is to handle situations as they arise, and communicate bigger issues up to management to be addressed.

The problem is that, like a game of telephone, critical information gets lost along the way.

The 3 technology trends transforming manufacturing

Just as modern ERP systems and cloud computing technology have made it possible to create and manage worldwide supply chains, these systems can now provide better shop floor insight. The cost of data storage and management has dramatically decreased. At the same time, internet coverage has reached nearly every corner of the globe. This combination provides the perfect storm for manufacturers to collect BETTER data and use it more efficiently.

Trend #1: The Voice of the Operator

Can technology efficiently collect feedback from shop floor workers? YES.  In an initiative we call, “The Voice of the Operator,” we’ve been working with several of our manufacturing clients to add a layer of qualitative data to the volumes of quantitative data already being collected.

Shop floor workers involved in the process frequently know the cause of the problem. By creating a structured feedback loop for workers to share their insight, management can then create adjustment production models and test potential solutions, creating continual process improvement.

Trend #2: IoT Devices

Manufacturers are replacing PLC (programmable logic controllers) that cost thousands of dollars with inexpensive IoT (Internet of Things) devices. Not only are  IoT devices a fraction of the cost, they also provide more information than ever before available. Since more data can be captured and stored in the cloud, companies use this information to reduce defects and improve overall customer experience.

Trend #3: Predictive Analytics / Machine Learning

Tied in with both trends 1 & 2 is the opportunity for predictive analytics and machine learning to do the heavy-lifting when it comes to identifying opportunities for improvements to shop floor production processes. Using massive data warehouses and big data, these business analytics tools can provide insight with greater reliability and speed than ever before imaginable.

Join the digital revolution!

Don’t let your manufacturing practices hold you back. The future is digital. Let us show you how a blend of a modern ERP solution with business analytics, combined with innovative manufacturing strategies can support your manufacturing growth.

Request a Free Value Assessment

Author: Phil Coy, Managing Director – Manufacturing Excellence

Where the rubber meets the road at Dell Technologies

By | Internet of Things

How much does a second cost you? In the manufacturing facilities at Dell Technologies, the answer is – MILLIONS! The cumulative cost of building and testing millions of units means that shaving mere seconds off of any part of the manufacturing process can have an impact on the company overall.

Presenting at IoT World 2017, John Biegel, Dell Technologies VP of Global Operations, is sharing Dell’s story of transformation global operations using IoT. Using Microsoft Azure, Dynamics 365 and Dell IoT Gateway devices, and teaming up with Microsoft and Microsoft Partner MCA Connect, Dell was able to streamline the manufacturing & testing process to reduce errors, increase satisfaction and improve overall factory efficiency.

Through these initial projects, Dell learned these 5 valuable lessons worth sharing:

1. Focus on the framework

Because Dell has such a large footprint, scalability and repeatability is a top priority for the company. Even smaller companies will benefit from creating processes, procedures and templates. Even without large scale factories, a framework can provide guidance for your next IoT projects. Most companies have lots of IoT ideas. The challenge is in prioritizing the projects, and creating a smooth experience for users.

2. Leverage tools you already have

One of the biggest time-savers and risk-reductions of Dell’s IoT projects was learning that Window 10 LTSB (long term service branch) images come with built-in security. These devices by their nature are secure. The fact that Microsoft doesn’t patch them very often makes them very stable.  These images come pre-loaded with all the firewall, anti-virus & back-up software used throughout the organization.

Since Dell was already using Microsoft Dynamics 365 (formerly called Microsoft Dynamics AX), the ERP system did not have to be ripped and replaced. Instead, Dell was able to extend the existing solution with IoT gateway devices connected to cloud (Azure) storage.

3. Embrace automation & innovation

It’s no secret that manufacturing is often a laggard when it comes to adopting new technology. The ethos of engineers is reflected in our practical nature.  However, the world has changed – especially the manufacturing world. PLC (programmable logic controllers) that used to cost thousands of dollars can be replaced by IoT gateway devices that cost a fraction of that amount. These new IoT devices simply work better, faster and provide more information than ever before available. Since more data can be captured, companies have the opportunity to use predictive analytics, machine learning and big data to reduce defects and improve overall customer experience.

4. Push decisions to the edge

Dell’s driving philosophy for its IoT projects was finding ways to “push decisions to the edge.” Manufacturing decisions have historically been driven by a centralized decision making system, both human and machine – even though it’s always the shop floor that has the real insight. In an environment where every second counts, saving seconds can mean saving millions of dollars.

IoT devices alleviate a major bottle neck for manufacturers because information doesn’t have to be relayed up to a centralized server and sent back to the device. All the information it needs is stored right within the device. As units roll through the assembly line, the IoT device contains all the information it needs to direct the unit – straight, to the left, or divert it for further testing.  That may save 3-5 seconds at multiple touch points in the process.

5. Get started.

Dell Technologies prides itself on being innovative, a leader among leading technology companies. Soon, companies will have little choice. The combination of affordable IoT devices and cloud data storage offer such a strong, ongoing competitive advantage, that those who choose to wait may find themselves falling further and further behind.

You can choose to disrupt or be disrupted. Your choice!


Written by: Doug Bulla, Senior Vice President, Business Development