Manufacturers must tap into the Industrial Internet to reduce decision-making time and consolidate a wealth of information.
It’s becoming clear that the Industrial Internet is a powerful tool and not just a buzzword. General Electric (GE) recently discovered major efficiencies could be achieved through this merging of the machine and digital worlds, according to an article on the SiliconANGLE blog. Executives at the company studied the costs of servicing industrial equipment in the power generation, aviation, rail and health care industries.
“They found that time and money ‘wasted largely due to deficiencies in how information is gathered, stored, accessed and shared’ on servicing machines serving just a handful of industries could amount to more than 300 million man-hours, or $20 billion per year,” according to the article.
GE is responding by investing in IT solutions to position the company as a leader in the Industrial Internet. As far as small and midsize manufacturers are concerned, technology already exists to take advantage of this resource, and the future looks bright as well.
Using the Industrial Internet, you can empower employees who are deep in the workplace to make faster, more effective decisions and give them a sense of responsibility beyond just the tasks they’ve been assigned.
Consider approaching this by creating digital hubs for individual workplaces, giving employees their own screens with key pieces of information to interface with, and ways to track the process they’re working on.
Digital hubs can also increase the efficiency of dialogue between employees, which today is done by typing messages back and forth. Look for ways to implement voice recognition systems so people don’t even need to touch a keyboard. Another exciting option is visual recognition, where employees simply gesture in front of a screen to initiate automatic routines.
You can even upload two- to three-minute videos with messages tailored to specific workstations, including instructions. Digital hubs can connect to the Internet and have live feeds with information relevant to specific work centers.
Digital hubs are all about putting information in the hands of employees so they can make the best decisions possible. They can track key performance indicators (KPIs), for example. Those KPIs could be company wide, as well as specific to a value stream and individual work center.
Using a digital hub, you can compare metrics to individual transactions to measure performance at a work center. That information could be used to identify shifts and trends, and the system could issue alerts when operations start to go off course, prompting corrective action.
Those alerts could also go to other employees who can help fix problems, as well as to supervisors and management.
On The Go
Digital hubs don’t need to be grounded at a specific location. Handheld and wearable devices allow employees to take information from the hub and go to work throughout their station. This could come in handy if, for example, you’re building a machine and need to work deep inside of it.
Tasks such as filling out quality records could be completed inside the machine. Or, if you’re in the machine and can’t remember how to put something together, the hub allows you to pull up instructions right where you’re working.
Digital hubs can also incorporate “proximity” technology, which uses GPS data to summon predetermined sets of information. “Identifiers” can generate a report when they are within a specific proximity of targeted locations or people. This would allow managers to walk to different workstations and see real-time information, such as KPIs, at each stop along the way.
Beyond The Shop Floor
Industrial Internet technology can also be leveraged to provide better service to customers. For example, solutions can be developed within CRM systems to tag assets, allowing companies to track how they’re performing. These solutions can issue alerts when an asset’s performance is less than optimal, and proactive steps can be taken to address the issue.
One company taking advantage of this technology is Sub-Zero, which makes high-end refrigerators connected to the Internet. If a unit isn’t performing properly, a customer service representative receives an alert and can call the owner to help them fix the problem.
The Road Ahead
The future of the Industrial Internet is exciting. If you collect enough information about specific data sets, such as the performance of a machine, you can begin to draw mathematical correlations between events. That’s where discoveries will happen.
For instance, if you’re collecting 20 different KPIs, can you figure out what causes one measure to sink? That’s where the managers and leaders of the future can jump in front of something before it becomes a problem. Correlations are important to identify and understand.
For now, though, manufacturers can leverage existing technology to reduce decision-making time and consolidate information.