Manufacturing CEOs reckoning with the huge potential of the Internet of Things (IoT) should focus intensely on the business opportunities and challenges the technology can solve or they can easily and needlessly get sidetracked and miss out on the benefits to their companies from the new world of sensors, connectors and digital networks on which IoT is based.
That’s one piece of advice from a fellow CEO who should know: Terrence Curtin, chief of TE Connectivity, a $13-billion global industrial-technology leader that specialize in connector and sensor solutions and is at the center of IoT developments in automotive, aerospace, medical devices and other manufacturing industries.
“What is the business problem you’re trying to solve that you believe will give you a competitive advantage?” by harnessing IoT, Curtin told Chief Executive. “Sometimes it’s over-simplified. The amount of things that can be sensed in the world isn’t the limitation–it’s the integration of everything together, because sensors can sense nearly everything.”
Sensors connected to the internet can enable countless functions, ranging from indicating temperature and humidity levels in a manufacturing process to the position of a package on a conveyor belt, Curtin says. Making that data useful “comes down to passing it back to something that can make intelligence out of it,” says Curtin,
Curtin advises other manufacturing CEOs to consider a handful of “core buckets” in their decision-making about deploying IoT systems.
Put the customer at the center: When considering the data-generation possibilities of IoT and its components, the first core bucket is, “Make sure you focus on how you’re going to help your customers … to make their processes that much more seamless and to your advantage, rather than your competitors’,” Curtin advises.
“It’s a journey, and you have to pick points around how to drive it forward.”
Consider the manufacturing environment: It’ll take decades, Curtin says, for companies to upscale factories and retrofit existing equipment to take full and proper advantage of the capabilities of IoT and the unprecedented volume of information it can generates. “You need to make sure that the manufacturer gets the quality and efficiency of performance that they get from other areas of their lives,” he says. “One of the most important things is not only getting the data off the machines but having the analytics to self-correct. And that’s a journey.”
Design to IoT’s advantages: TE itself faces the challenge involved in the third core bucket, for engineers of designing processes and systems to optimize the data that can be generated by IoT. “There are simulation tools available, but actually getting that engineering data flow that influences manufacturing in real time, versus just sending it over to manufacturing – how do you really get a continuous loop that helps us get the kind of faster cycle speeds that the world is coming to expect day-to-day?” Curtin says. “That’s what every CEO can struggle with.”
Reckon with the labor-force effects: Manufacturing workers can adjust to the capabilities of IoT, but CEOs must “help employees embrace this world,” Curtin says. Factory-floor labor especially may be greatly disrupted, he says, in areas such as miniaturization where human senses and appendages simply aren’t capable of working at the small scale that sensors can. But look for ways to combine the advantages of humans with the capabilities of IoT. “That may be hiring or training more controls engineers who do more with data,” he says. “Or having collaborative robots that don’t do everything themselves but are humans and automation working together.”
Make IoT digestible: “It’s a journey, and you have to pick points around how to drive it forward,” Curtin advises. “You can’t just boil the ocean. Break it down and get it down to the data you want, that’s actionable. That will take a while.”