Digitisation becomes critical as the IOT industrialises

The enormous benefits of the industrial Internet of things (IIIT) can only be realised if manufacturers understand the importance of starting their digital transformation journeys.

Johannesburg, 12 Feb 2021
Read time 4min 50sec
Professor Brian Armstrong
Professor Brian Armstrong

The Internet of things (IOT) is making the lives of consumers considerably easier, and much the same can be said for the use of IOT sensors in the manufacturing environment. Here, robust sensors are being applied to help manufacturers transform their business operations via what is usually referred to as the industrial IOT (IIOT).

With IIOT taking robotic automation one step further, by creating a network of devices - from tiny, simple environmental sensors to really complex industrial robots – this means that a wealth of information on critical production issues becomes available to help improve processes. Although the word ‘industrial’ calls to mind old factory floors and clanking machines, the fact is that technologies like the IIOT are ready to take manufacturers into a bright new future.

Speaking at the recent virtual MTN Business IOT Developer Day, programme director Professor Brian Armstrong pointed out it is vital that manufacturers get started on their digital transformation journeys, in order to become cognitive enterprises.

“Digitisation will enable these enterprises to become much more effective businesses, by transforming their operations to increase efficiencies, improve product quality, gain better supply chain visibility and improve the experiences of both customers and employees,” he says.

“The IIOT is vital because it breaks down traditional information silos and eliminates the reactive approach that leads to inefficient manufacturing. A good example is unpredicted machine breakdowns, which can lead to high maintenance costs and expensive downtime. An IIOT platform, on the other hand, can help managers to maintain the balance between quality and yield while still providing flexible production processes.”

Matthew Venter, co-founder of My Smart Systems and a speaker at the event, adds that IIOT platforms are designed to extract and analyse data for every aspect in a factory, and then supply users with actionable analytics and insights to help the business to achieve peak performance.

“A strong IIOT platform not only increases throughput and uptime, but at the same time, reduces costs and boosts quality, by allowing informed business decisions to be taken, based on the insights provided by this,” he suggests.

“A simple example of the kind of improved efficiency an organisation can get from the IIOT would be the ability to track when machines on the floor have components – from small screws to complex motors – that need to be replaced. As these get close to their end-of-life, sensors will notify the purchasing and maintenance departments, enabling parts to be ordered and repairs to be made before failure occurs, preventing potential downtime.”

He adds that artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics can be used to look at things like power consumption. Once they have gathered data over time, these technologies will be able to, for example, predict how much power a machine will consume, allowing the business to schedule machine operations at specific times, to avoid peak power usage. They can also be used to initiate an automatic start-up sequence on a Monday morning. In this way, it becomes possible to significantly reduce a company’s electricity bill.

According to John Manuell, local division manager for processing industries at ABB South Africa and another speaker at the event, there are a lot of complex challenges facing industrial leaders today. Among these are increasing pressure to improve efficiency, a greater focus on return on investment (ROI), and issues around safety, sustainability, compliance, productivity, flexibility and asset management.

“Without digitisation, management will need to make decisions in an environment where they often lack information visibility, or there is poor consolidation of data from various areas of the facility,” he says.

“The future will be driven by technology, and the benefits greatly outweigh the perceived risks of adoption, so businesses that aim to remain competitive simply have to adapt. Digital transformation will ultimately create increased value for customers, by increasing efficiency, productivity and flexibility. However, it is crucial that manufacturers understand that digital technology is not the key focus. The real goal is to unlock additional value.”

He points out that attaining this new level of smart industry requires a new way of thinking and the right company culture and employee buy-in, in order to unlock full value.

“My advice when undertaking a digitisation strategy with a view to implementing the IIOT is to think big – remember digital transformation is no longer merely a nice to have, but an absolute must, so the company must develop long-term goals around its implementation. At the same time, you should start small, focusing on the immediate opportunities and quick wins, as this will create more buy-in, while also generating immediate value. Finally, develop a roadmap blending these quick win optimisations with your longer-term growth projects.

“In today’s rapidly evolving digital world, unless manufacturers take a leap of faith and get started, they run the risk of falling behind their competition and ending up in a position where they are constantly trying to play catch-up. There is no doubt that the current and future potential of digital is absolutely enormous. Therefore, any business that is has not begun their transformation journey yet had better get started if they wish to remain competitive in the long run,” concludes Manuell.

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