Bright future

18 February 2015

Sean Riley, director of industry solutions — manufacturing at Software AG, a German enterprise software company, provides his views on digital collaboration, the Internet of Things (IoT) and the intelligent manufacturer

From the raw materials supplier to the factories and transportation providers, unless the supply chain collaborates across the entire process, problems can easily escalate, increasing time and ultimately cost for the enterprise.

A GE Energy Jenbacher gas engine at the King’s Cross development in London, which is equipped with sensors to provide performance data

Yet, by proactively generating transparent data and using it to create a complete picture, manufacturers and their partners become more aware of potential issues and can act to resolve them as they occur – creating a seamless, unified process.

Rather than seeing the global economy and developments like re-shoring, big data and sensor technology as problems, intelligent manufacturers are now looking to the wealth of associated data to understand their manufacturing processes on both a macro and micro level.

By incorporating these complexities within a supply chain model, they have an important opportunity to understand their client needs and optimise their operations in a way that was unimaginable prior to the digital era.

New data, new opportunities

The manufacturing industry is leading the way to the Internet of Things (IoT) adoption.

Using sensors that are wirelessly connected to the internet, it allows users to connect, share, gather and transmit data. When it’s applied to manufacturing, it makes production increasingly connected until everything becomes linked.

Over time, this will result in the entire supply chain becoming more dependent on co-ordination across every level, from logistics to suppliers.

Although the IoT impacts us all on a minor level, the big data it produces is set to make a tremendous impact on the business world, whether hosted by the enterprise or in the cloud.

For the supply chain, one of the biggest opportunities is to adapt customer-facing processes and use them to fight product commoditisation, create deeper ties with customers and realise new sources of revenue.

The major international manufacturer GE Energy is already putting this principle into practice with its Jenbacher Gas Turbines.

Here, sensors provide performance data back to GE and the operator, which is used to understand maintenance requirements and real-time performance of the engines.

GE also provides service contracts to their customers to take away the burden of maintaining the sophisticated equipment. In turn, data created by the IoT helps the manufacturer to make intelligent decisions about how its customer contracts are structured.

The manufacturer no longer has to set up contracts solely on a corrective or preventative basis.

This is brought to life by a concept and technology known as Intelligent Business Operations (IBO), which turns business insights into intelligence-driven operations.

Using an IBO platform, a manufacturer blends real-time data with historical measures into a single view, provides context as the basis for intelligent action and automates processes to take intelligent ‘next best steps.’

Data in the field

The IoT offers enormous potential for complex organisations with large networks that are inter-related and reliant on the constant transfer of data, which is why it is so important for manufacturers. Specifically, it lends itself perfectly to predictive maintenance.

Using the IoT, Predictive Field Maintenance increases output quality by understanding when equipment needs repair prior to quality being degraded, as well as identifying repair part availability and replenishment requirements before the part is needed.

Finally, it understands and manages fieldbased repair assets and deploys technicians according to customer requirements.

Not all manufacturers have this requirement. However, some of the biggest value in the technology lies in the opportunity to predict failure and intervene before failure occurs.

The next step for intelligent manufacturers seeking to drive advantage from the IoT connected, data-driven supply chain is to create a dedicated services arm.

The most effective way to do this may be to outsource, which requires the ability to engage with a large quantity of partners, part and service suppliers, on a large scale. Again, this can be accomplished using the IoT and the concepts of IBO.

As an example, service partners can provide real-time position and service updates using GPS on technicians’ trucks or mobile devices. This data is continuously analysed in real-time to provide the manufacturer with complete visibility, an understanding of the exceptions that are occurring and the ability to take control when they want to.

Close collaboration via information-sharing gives partners and suppliers a clear understanding of enterprise and partner needs and requirements, as well as the ability to work together on event resolutions.

Structured benefits

By participating in structured collaboration, manufacturers can gain many advantages, including complete visibility so that data, exceptions and mitigating actions are all shared at varying levels, depending on the partner’s strategic impact.

All this contributes to consistency and shared certainty, which gives manufacturers a granular understanding about how suppliers and partners react to exceptions and allows them to act with certainty.

Crucially, structured collaboration also offers strategic advantage in that it reduces mitigation costs, so that actions are limited to the scope in which they’re needed.

While enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES) have been for many years the manufacturing industry’s go-to solution, they cannot provide the real-time data to drive analysis and incisive, informed action.

Real-time data is critical, positioning the IoT as a significant enabler when it comes to gleaning vivid insight into realtime production performance.

In doing so, it generates exciting new revenue opportunities for the intelligent manufacturer.

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