By Santosh Ambekar, IT and IoT Professional
So far the manufacturing industry has been more like a inflexible monolithic production system and had developed complex structures and control systems that operate independently. However in order to cater to the growing demand of faster product deliveries, flexibility in planning, increasing complexity and multiple variants of products, and rapid product changes, it has become ubiquitous to become “lean” and adapt future and smart technologies!
Today Internet-Of-Things, most commonly known as IoT has not is the buzzword but is a reality in every domain, be it a medical or a simple household! IoT has progressively grown in consumer domain but there has been a little progress of it in manufacturing. Today, the world has become so rapid and technologies are evolving so faster that the manufacturing industries has realized that there’s nothing else than adapting the Smart Factory concept to deliver products faster than ever! Manufacturing industries are competing to become more “lean” and “smart” by integrating “Internet-Of-things” to their production lines. In short, they are better making “Factory of Things”!
So far industrial equipment and machines were only interested in following the existing standards to operate more like stand alone machines. However there is a strong need of machines connecting to other machines and to the intranet/internet so the whole manufacturing becomes a virtual arena! Factory people – Technicians, Engineers, Managers and CEOs can see what they want to see and not only monitor but can also control the process remotely from any place in the world. The need is stronger to companies that are international and having multiple operations in different countries and regions.
So how should the industries create Factory-Of-Things?
Well, this is an important question! It is not possible to convert the existing manufacturing setup to something like smart factory just like that! It requires a step by step approach to first create a platform and then slowly updating each and every process.
I’d define this in following 4 steps
- Connecting Things
- Real time and Remote management
If your industry or factory has many manual, people dependent processes which requires people to use paper or excel based data logging, reports etc then the first thing ever is to digitize it! Yes, you can not keep your processes manual and paper based if you do not have them digital. so the first thing ever would be to convert all your processes to digital. At the end of this stage, you will have all of your processes without the need of paper and people!
The second important step is to automate! Keep it simple but automate! The cost of automation might be high if you want to convert the manual processes to automated ones and in some cases you would even see that the cost in 10 or 100 times higher than what it is with the operators! In such cases, try to automate the processes partly so you can at least get the “connected” part of it! Partial automation which can convert the result of the process to digitize can add more value and save cost.
The third part is more complex and is an extreme importance as it makes the Smart Factory concept to realization! The connecting things would make Human to machine, machine to machine and machine to internet communication seamless and continuous. However this is as said is the most complex part! In most of the industries where age old machines and equipment are used, it is quite possible that these machines or equipment would need an “external” upgrade to make the “connecting” part possible! What it means is that these machines/equipment might not have an interface which can connect them on the intra/internet. This might be difficult at first place but not impossible. Today with heap of different IoT platforms and essentially almost all of them being open source it is easier to integrate them to these “hard” machines.
As far now, you have all your machines and processes connected, it is now not at all a difficult task if you wish to make a remote management of your complete manufacturing operation on real time!
Why Factory of things?
Well, if you want to have that edge over your competitors in manufacturing then you should!
All the industries are going for it. Industries are making way towards Smart factory so that they can predict, respond and react to market trends, that requires not only their products to sense the usage statistics but also to manage their operations flexibly.
There are numerous IoT platforms available as of today which has connectivities in most of the popular channels. Chose the one which suits your need, and chose Open source as it can add a huge factor of flexibility and interchangeability! Prototyping is an important step towards making your IoT solution and there are many open source hardware platforms from Arduino to Raspberry available which can make prototyping easier and faster.
Form factor of your hardware is very important when it comes to using them in different types of machines and processes. so the lowest form factor is advisable. This is possible when you finally customize from the prototype.
Finally, it is very essential to upgrade than to remain stale and vanish away! This is just a beginning but the competition is really tough!