How “Smart” Is Your Organization at Implementing New Technology?

There seem to be several asset-industry trends and buzzwords floating around three specific terms and you’ve probably heard of each one. Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, and smart manufacturing. For a quick refresher, here’s how we define each term:

  • Industry 4.0, frequently referred to as the “fourth-industrial revolution”, Industry 4.0 is an idea that builds on the last revolution of computerization and automation by developing by enhancing the synergy between new technologies. 
  • Industrial Internet of Things, also known as  “the Industrial Internet”, IIoT is a subsection of Industry 4.0. and concentrates around the development and utilization of smart technology to automate, gather, and analyze the data from industrial machines or equipment across asset-intensive industries. The primary difference between IOT and IIoT is the latter centers around integrated connectivity in industries like oil and gas and energy, as opposed to the former, which focuses on consumer-level devices.  
  • Smart Manufacturing is the “specific application of IIoT; it’s the process that employs computer controls, modeling, big data and other automation to improve manufacturing efficiencies.” 

Equipment and smart assets are a significant part of the smart manufacturing movement, but it shouldn’t be the sole focus. As we continue to discover new ways to create and implement smart technology in our “Fourth Industrial Revolution,” it is important that we also focus around processes and implementing a strategy to best leverage the technology. Plant workers are struggling to embrace digital transformation.  Management needs to develop a program to increase productivity by ensuring workers are understanding and using these smart technologies in their work.

Consider how your organization is integrating people and smart technology into the manufacturing process—what kind of insight does your team have into the health of their plant or facility? How is equipment data being analyzed? Are workers receiving automated updates or notifications?

Finding a software integration that’s interconnected with your ERP, equipment, and technicians so that data is flowing correctly is half the climb. But, how do you know when is the right time to investigate smart technology solutions and tools? Here is some food for thought when thinking about navigating your organization through “Industry 4.0.”

Have Smart Technology in Place at Your Plant or Facility

You can’t develop smart manufacturing processes to increase productivity if you don’t have the right  tools to get you there. Having the tools needed to assess and diagnose an issue with a piece of equipment is important, but the software that can take important data and integrate into a single database is vital.

But how do you know what solutions will support your processes and ensure reliable data is being transferred into SAP or your CMMS? Having a strong understanding of your work process, industry, and tech agility of your team, that is the length of time needed to understand and engage with technology, are all important factors to consider.

One of the biggest benefits of these smart manufacturing technologies is that it provides a boost in work process efficiency and worker productivity that will cut down on the amount of time it would take for a technician to diagnose an issue with a piece of equipment. If it is setup correctly they’re also better able to determine a the  point of failure for equipment and enable predictive maintenance that will cut back on unplanned downtime. 

Consider what happens to a smartphone when it overheats.

If your device is sitting out in the sun on a hot day, you’ll usually get a notification or image that informs you that your device is overheating. This may prompt your device to shut-off or idle in an unusable state until you find a way to cool it down. Instead of spending minutes or hours trying to figure out why your device powered down, sensors  diagnose the issue, and can immediately rectify the issue or inform you of the problem. Smart manufacturing is no different, except instead of smartphones, equipment are using sensors that are collecting data throughout the plant  is sending this data to a single repository to ensure all historical data is captured. Having equipment data recorded is not a new concept; organizations have been collecting this for many years. They look at it historically to see if they need to change part of the process to avoid issues in the future. Going forward, the real benefit that many organizations are trying to figure out is how to use this data for machine learning and truly predictive analytics.

Crowd using mobile phones

Unfortunately, this isn’t being achieved.  If data continues to sit in silos and never gets integrated into a true analytics platform across the organization, then they will always be missing an important component of the “IIoT”.  

In addition, while organizations recognize the benefits of smart technology, they may not recognize how it specifically benefits their plant or facility; if a team has no idea how to integrate smart technology into their workflow, then it doesn’t matter how incredible the technology is. An organization must understand how smart technology fits into their work process, across all teams if they’re to have any success  leveraging it.

Know How to Fold Smart Technology into Work and Operational Processes

Understanding how to integrate smart technology into maintenance and operation workflows can encourage workers resistant to change, become more open to using smart technology in managing and completing their jobs or tasks. 

IIoT is dramatically changing the efficiency, productivity, and performance of companies that heavily rely on OEMs and as a result, experiencing the impact of digital transformation across the organization. IIoT is changing the way organizations manage their work processes and resources but a team can’t benefit from increases in efficiency and productivity if their current processes don’t support it, nor if they don’t embrace it.

Putting a program in place that not only enforces the use of technology on the assets, but that also provides real time output to the specific teams to make better decisions, will go a long way in successfully implementing smart technology across an organization.

Understanding where the gaps lie in your processes will help you determine what technology is needed to fill those gaps.  

The key takeaway: Determine what processes are bolstered by smart technology implementation and have a program in place to consistently assess its impact on overall workflow processes.

Smart Technology Can’t Do Everything–Integrate People Into the Process

In the era of IIoT, where smart technology is replacing, paper and labor-intensive processes, organizations need to turn their focus towards the best method of inter-meshing workers and technology. This is the most important, yet most overlooked aspect of implementing smart technology within an organization.

If your team doesn’t understand or see how the technology can improve the way to go about their work on the plant or facility floor, then the time and energy you poured into developing a strategy to implement smart technology is wasted. 

A planner takes advantage of implementing a mobile solution

Currently, most organizations take smaller steps toward smart technology implementation over time, replacing the equipment they have with newer technology. There are a few critical questions that your organization should be able to answer before implementing newer, smarter, tech.

  • Is IT going to support connectivity? Will they have the bandwidth and expertise? 
  • Does your maintenance team know to correctly analyze data once they receive it? 
  • Do you have a set of best-practices for each team to follow when managing data?
  • Does management know how to leverage plant data to improve intelligent decision-making?
  • How frequently will your organization hold trainings or continuing education to ensure that people are continuously using the technology?

Organizations must be willing to work through these issues to ensure full adoption. The more involved your team is earlier in the process, the easier it is to get them all on same page using the newer technology.

Industry 4.0 is ushering an era of digital transformation in the industrial space, marked by greater reliability, efficiency, productivity, and cost savings. Smart manufacturing and technology enable teams to work smarter not harder and provides access to improved data. However, big picture thinking requires organizations to look inward at their own processes and teams and assess how they can truly leverage the IIOT capabilities to be an industry leader.