By: Kevin Hartman and David Kinney, SPR

Manufacturing output is up 40 percent from just 20 years ago, and that’s after the industry has seen a decrease in more than 5 million jobs in the same period. This is thanks, in large part, to advances in key technologies, and how their increased adoption individually in the factories and plants is having an amplifying effect on one another. But there is one unifying factor between them all — if a company wants to leverage these innovations to increase profit, output and efficiency, they have to be thinking about centralizing their data.

Automation and rapid prototyping are continuing to create a lower barrier to entry in bringing products to market — and helping operators get these ideas off the line quicker. The implementation of IoT and the convergence of operational technology and information technology is greatly expanding visibility into a manufacturer’s data, allowing them opportunities to improve the uptime of lines, predict equipment failure and increase efficiency in a host of other operations throughout their business.

More and more, middle tier manufacturers are exploring how these solutions can help them be more responsive and more efficient, and the data makes that clear: In 2016, it’s estimated that the industry spent about $178 billion on IoT solutions alone. Manufacturers who are implementing strategies to centralize their data today are those that are positioning themselves for the future, and those without will be left behind.

Goods can be produced in weeks, not months

Major advances in 3D printing technology have allowed companies to see a much shorter feedback cycle between design, build and test phases of a product rollout. The technology allows for faster prototyping, as well as a less expensive testing process as a result. The trial and error testing phase that was once a costly proposition is now made much easier by 3D printers that can quickly and relatively cheaply produce variations on a product.

This technology decreases the barrier of entry for hopeful inventors or small businesses, who previously simply could not afford a lengthy period and process to market. As a result, it creates a much lower-risk environment that attracts these smaller and more nimble customers, who may lack the resources or capital to engage a more traditional or offshore options.

A much deeper — and centralized — data strategy

Manufacturers are also beginning to demand a more holistic view of their operations from the supply chain, through the factory floor and into distribution. By taking data that has traditionally been stored in disparate logic control systems and bringing it to a centralized location, operators are seeing major improvements to efficiency and output.

But using IoT technology to collect this data is just the first step. Once the data is all in one place, the doors are open for deep analysis using AI and machine learning that allows for the increased efficiency.

For example, manufacturers are combining sensor data collected from the factory floor with logged evidence of equipment failures. Data scientists can then correlate things like how temperature, humidity, RPMs, vibrations, cycle times and other environmental factors can contribute to equipment failure — meaning they can proactively plan maintenance to reduce downtime. This also allows them to fold in data from ERP systems, like supply chain information and order pipelines to give operators an added degree of precision into maximizing throughput, all through a centralized dashboard.

Investment Now Means Having Answers for the Future

To be sure, the manufacturing industry is in the early innings of what is possible through technologies like IoT. Many of the solutions that are coming in 2018 and beyond will be dependent with pairing a manufacturer’s proprietary data with external sources. It’s critical for businesses to seriously begin considering how they share their data, and who they share it with, to ensure they are remaining competitive while still leveraging this information to improve their processes.

About the Authors
Kevin Hartman SprKevin Hartman is a solutionist who helps those around him discover new approaches to solving problems at SPR, a digital technology consulting firm, that focuses on building solutions for clients to improve the way they do business. His expertise is heavily rooted in solution ideation, design and system architectures. He works to identify, shape and plan early and emerging opportunities using my knowledge of industry, technology and societal trends.

 

Kinney David SprDavid Kinney is a principal architect at SPR with decades of experience helping startups and enterprises leverage emerging technology to enter new markets and improve operational efficiency. He has delivered numerous solutions in the IoT, mobile, cloud, and web spaces.