Elizabeth Modic Editor | emodic@gie.net

As devices and sensors generate extraordinary amounts of data from the shop floor, the next step is learning how a company can capitalize on this new-found knowledge. Having just returned from IMTS 2016 – The International Manufacturing Technology show, which boasted 115,000+ attendees and more than 2,400 exhibitors – it was easy to see that Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), additive manufacturing (AM), and automation were the leading topics across the show floor. While AM and automation are tangible assets, IIoT is intangible – more of a concept that could accelerate success in a company.

Topics such as IIoT, advanced analytics, and digitally connected, data-driven manufacturing weren’t in daily conversation until 2010, but ever since they’ve rapidly worked into manufacturing facilities of all sizes. The promise of the technology is clear – enhanced manufacturing processes, improved product design and development, and increased responsiveness to customers and suppliers.

Yet, this comes with challenges and concerns. While IIoT improves business innovation, drives up efficiency, and reduces machine downtime by collecting and analyzing data already in a facility, not all systems were designed to share this data. Overcoming that design challenge through the use of sensors, connectivity, security, interoperability, and analytics, should allow facilities to capitalize on this smart manufacturing revolution – leading to better insights and decisions that decrease production downtime, improve competitiveness, and optimize costs.

If you’re not already on this road, there’s no time to hesitate on harnessing your untapped data because, according to Gartner, by 2020 the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to reach 26 billion installed units – up from 0.9 billion in 2010.

While some may see the move to smart manufacturing as too huge to tackle, the benefits outweigh the challenges with the right approach. Even if assets and systems weren’t originally designed to share data, all throughout IMTS 2016, exhibitors highlighted technology that captures data, simple digital machine upgrades, and intelligent gateways to connect legacy equipment. One example of this is the article on page 42, which looks at Machine Metrics’ approach to helping companies enter this arena with little risk and minimized challenges.

As with any disruptive technology, as it starts to take hold it evolves, sometimes changing as fast as it is embraced. So, as companies plan to move toward smart manufacturing, a word of caution is appropriate: Others are headed down this same path; some are ahead of you, others are behind. As IIoT reaches a level of maturity, efficiencies seen from unearthing shop floor data will not remain the competitive differentiator they were at first.

This is not to deter you from embracing smart manufacturing, rather to encourage you not to wait. As fast as you benefit from unlocking that data, you need to prepare for the next industry disruption.

Drop me an email and let me know how your company is implementing smart manufacturing and the IIoT so it’s not left playing catch-up in these data-driven days. ~ Elizabeth