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IoT is Just an Enabling Technology… Not a Silver Bullet

Something we’ve known for a long time, and people are finally starting to realize is that IoT is really just an enabling technology that fits within larger systems. It helps you automatically do what you used to have to do manually or what was not even possible before.

In our world, IoT helps manufacturers do things like automatically collect process or productivity information using sensors or by connecting to the PLCs and act on that collected data. IoT makes what used to be very manual processes… possible.

But, the caveat is that data on its own isn’t super helpful unless you know everything else that’s going on in the plant. Manufacturers need context.

You may be thinking, “A manufacturing productivity software company is showing the downside of all of this data… that’s odd.” Well, we believe in helping our customers succeed, and over the years, we’ve come to realize that true success is achieved when manufacturers are looking at the entire picture.

At the end of the day, manufacturers need to get products out the door on time. They need to produce to schedule, meet targets, and hit goals, and if that doesn’t happen, they need to know where the problems are coming from and why. IoT is helping manufacturers automatically collect, analyze, and understand data that before, was otherwise too manual, too complicated, or too expensive to do. But, is it providing a holistic view of the plant, from the sensor to boardroom? In this blog, we’ll talk about:

  • IoT and why it’s really just an enablement technology
  • The benefits of IoT and how you can use it in your plant
  • The 5 Why’s of understanding why and when you need IoT
  • Why you should look at the plant as an entire ecosystem, not individual sections
  • Where manufacturing productivity software comes into play

Really, manufacturers need to answer, “What is my business goal?” and “What am I trying to do?”.

For 99.9% of manufacturers, the goal is to make money by getting products out the door and delivered to customers on time. Rather than developing an Industry 4.0 IoT strategy that is separate from the overall goal, manufacturers need to think about how IoT fits into that goal. It cannot work without being a piece of the puzzle. IoT is not the entire puzzle or silver bullet.

How does IoT help support and simplify the goal of making money by getting products out the door and delivered to customers on time? That’s the purpose of this blog – to get manufacturers like yourself – thinking about how IoT fits into overall business goals.

IoT Replaces the Manual Processes that Already Exist

Developing an IoT strategy that fits within your overall business strategy is actually pretty simple. Everybody has to track production. They have to know what was made every day. They need to take that data and analyze it to understand progress and if goals are going to be met. Yet, most manufacturers are currently doing a lot of work manually, via Excel or plain ole’ pen and paper.

Examples always help drive the point home so let’s pretend you were 100 parts short yesterday. With traditional, outdated, manual reporting methods, you wouldn’t know about the shortage until later in the week when the report finally reached your desk. This makes it very hard to make up for the shortage. But, if you had embedded IoT in your strategy, you’d know in real-time, giving you the ability to determine a plan of action to make up the difference.

If you have automatic reporting, and you’re now showing it to people in real-time, they understand where they are at any given time. As an operator, they know if they’re ahead or behind and can make the real-time decision to speed up a little bit and make their numbers for the day. Or, maybe they cut their break a little bit shorter. Or, maybe, the problem isn’t even their problem to start with. In fact, production is running behind because there’s a materials or supply issue upstream, and the operator goes to talk to their supervisor about how to fix that.

All of these things were made possible with real-time analytics. It’s all about digitizing and automatically collecting the data that is being manually collected today. This is the first step in thinking about how IoT will fit into the overall strategy…. that already exists.

IoT fits in with everything manufacturers are doing now, but it makes everything easier to collect and easier to access for everybody that needs the information in the plant. Manufacturers not only have the ability to collect data automatically but also react to it as it’s happening, rather than tomorrow.

Better, Easier Ways to Get Visibility

The spin on this whole thing is that this isn’t IoT giving manufacturers visibility and accountability. It’s manufacturing software. It’s creating a culture of looking at problems holistically and understanding how IoT supports that. It’s not IoT for the sake of IoT.

All of this new technology that’s coming out provides a better, easier way to understand what’s going on in the plant and get visibility. It’s incredibly beneficial, but in and of itself, is that one piece of technology going to revolutionize manufacturing and change the way everything is done? Probably not. In a larger ecosystem and holistic view of your plant and productivity within the plant, it absolutely will.

This kind of software we’re talking about is absolutely needed, but manufacturers need to approach it with their business strategies in mind. The software is providing details on what’s happening and how the contributes to the overall view of the plant.

Time for another example. Think about downtime. If you knew a machine was down 50% of the time, does that help you in the overall picture of running the plant? If it’s the one and only bottleneck, maybe. But, most likely, it’s not the only bottleneck. It doesn’t really help you.

If you’re looking at only that machine, you would think 50% downtime is a huge problem, but in the context of the entire plant, you’re still meeting goals and don’t need that machine to run so in reality, it isn’t a huge deal.

If everything is flowing through the plant as it should and meeting the schedule on a daily basis, the fact that the machine only runs 50% of the time may not matter because you may not have work for it the other 50% of the time.

It has to fit within the larger view of the plant.

Track Data Throughout the ENTIRE Plant

Don’t get us wrong, manufacturers are looking at things holistically now, but they’re getting the data too late because it’s mostly manual.

If they do have some automated processes and they’re doing machine monitoring, they’re potentially focusing on individual machines and the productivity of those individual machines, but not integrating that into the holistic view of what’s happening in the rest of the plant. This happens because some of these processes are manual, part of it’s automatic, and there is no connector or software giving them an overview of everything.

To fix this problem, manufacturers need to invest in a productivity tool like Mingo that can help track that data throughout the factory and really help manufacturers understand, holistically, what’s happening.

The idea isn’t to go all-in on IoT first. The idea is to understand, overall, what the biggest issues are in the plant. Looking at machine monitoring on a handful of machines is a very myopic view of what a plant manager should look at. If manufacturers are only looking at one piece of the puzzle and ignoring the bigger picture, that’s not very effective. Get your arms around the big picture and then drill down into the details to find out where the problems are.

Then, you can start to understand what the leading indicators of problems are and ensure data is automatically collected, where possible, to prevent those problems from occurring. If you don’t have the big picture, you could potentially be focusing on the wrong things at the micro-level.

IoT is the Supporting Technology to Achieve Goals

Beyond understanding that IoT is simply an enabling technology that fits within the larger business strategy, what are the first steps in getting started?

Think about the “Why?” behind it all.

Manufacturer: “I want to implement IoT in my plant”.

Us: “Why? What does IoT mean to you?”

Manufacturer: “I want to know when our machines are running or not.”

Us: “Why?”

Manufacturer: “When our machines aren’t running, they aren’t making money.”

Us: “Do the machines run all of the time, 24/7?”

Manufacturer: “No, not really.”

Us: “So, how are we supposed to know when they should be running and when they’re not?”

Manufacturer: “That information comes from our ERP system.”

Us: “Ok, so why do you need IoT?”

Manufacturer: “I guess to connect everything together and give us a holistic view.”

Us: “Exactly.”

The idea is to keep drilling down into the various layers of the problem at hand. The example walked us through what that manufacturer really needs – the ability to see when machines are running or not within the context of what else is running. Are there actually orders in the system? If they’re the machines are running, the lack of orders may be the cause. Maybe there are orders, but there is a short supply of raw material or the employees to run the machines. Maybe it’s a problem with machine breakdowns. This all matters and is very important to know but to understand what’s happening, you need a holistic view of the plant.

IoT is simply the supporting technology to help manufacturers get data in a much easier, faster fashion. These are things you couldn’t do before that IoT now enables.

But, to truly benefit from IoT, it needs to be implemented, utilized, and understood within the greater ecosystem of the entire plant.

Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot
Bryan Sapot is a lifelong entrepreneur, speaker, CEO, and founder of Mingo. With more than 24 years of experience in manufacturing technology, Bryan is known for his deep manufacturing industry insights. Throughout his career, he’s built products and started companies that leveraged technology to solve problems to make the lives of manufacturers easier. Follow Bryan on LinkedIn here.