Harnessing the full potential of IIoT in manufacturing requires a match between business value, local expertise and software capabilities.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is now transforming industrial companies with practical deployments that are creating value. Machines, software, devices, people, locations, and even dynamic elements such as processes are creating data that is now accessible in real time to better understand business and operational performance.
But without an infrastructure that connects between different pieces of equipment and that produces actionable insights, all this newly tapped data can slow down important decisions, instead of streamlining them. "Manufacturers of modern equipment and devices are beginning to provide their own connectivity portals so that you can monitor your new piece of equipment," said an expert in IIoT. "They’re great but you won’t ever have an entire factory full of one brand of equipment, so the problem you then encounter is that you end up with multiple separate systems. For a complete view of your manufacturing operations, you want to be able to easily connect to lots of different sources of data, from multiple brands as well as to data within your own business systems, and have this presented in a single location so that you can quickly process information and make informed decisions."
For the SMEs, being able to interpret and collate this diverse data sourced from a variety of systems into a consolidated dashboard is the first important step in a manufacturer’s successful IIoT implementation.
The majority of manufacturers will also have legacy devices that are still productive but have come from a previous industrial era. For Thompson, this is one key area where PTC’s award-winning IIoT platform, ThingWorx, comes into play.
"How do you find out what's going on with your 'dumb' bits of equipment that don't have any connectivity at all? People want to understand what's happening across all of the factory, not just these little silos of information. There are so many options available now to simply and cheaply add sensors to existing equipment and begin gathering data. Then ThingWorx is designed to quickly give you a complete picture of what’s happening across your operations."
Already adopted by all manner of manufacturing companies, from global household names down to a diverse mix of SMEs, ThingWorx is commercial off-the-shelf software that provides the security of using a proven, end-to-end IIoT platform.
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Thompson advises manufacturers to define their business priorities upfront. In his experience, manufacturers most often want to measure and improve their operational performance using IoT-enabled machine and process monitoring. This simple first step can realise immediate benefits and provide a jumping-off point for the next steps in an IIoT journey.
For Elsum Engineering, a sheet metal fabricator based in Victoria, the ability to understand operational overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) was a key outcome of their implementation of ThingWorx, as Brett Mackieson, general manager, observes. "Combining data from both our older and newer equipment, implementing ThingWorx has given us a live shop-floor ability to drill down into what’s actually happening with each of our lines," he said. "We chose ThingWorx because it allows us to get started quickly to monitor our OEE, but it also doesn’t cut any corners in terms of capabilities to fulfil our longer-term vision."
Here are three immediate benefits that a typical SME will focus on:
An IIoT solution with real-time monitoring capabilities and customisable alerts provides greater transparency onto the factory floor and helps operations managers identify, prioritise, and respond to developing issues as they happen. "If a device is running hotter than it should be, we could have an alert sent automatically to the operator as well as scheduling a service visit," said Thompson.
Cost pressures are driving manufacturers to look at how they can get longer lifespans with greater utilisation of their assets by performing maintenance based on measurable need, rather than arbitrary schedules. Thompson sees growing demand for data insights using machine learning in ThingWorx to enable predictive maintenance, so manufacturers can anticipate and resolve potential issues before they happen.
Augmented Reality (AR) makes it easier for manufacturers to scale expertise to existing workers of all skill levels. Digital information from IIoT can be overlaid onto equipment, or step-by-step work instructions can guide workers through new tasks, reducing training time and harnessing knowledge transfer from more experienced workers. In RMIT University’s implementation of ThingWorx at the Advanced Manufacturing Precinct in Melbourne, rather than adding extra screens to the environment, the choice was made to display information using AR. "As the Vuforia Studio AR technology is built on top of the Thingworx IIoT platform, with just a couple of clicks you can link IIoT data to AR and immediately start to look at the equipment with a real time feed of the data overlaid on top of it, with each piece of data shown correctly in context," said Thompson.
In contrast to pursuing in-house DIY deployment of that involves unknowns in terms of scale and cost, partnering with an IIoT company helps you focus on the value IIoT will bring your business and develop a staged approach that reduces implementation risks. Indeed, as PTC President and CEO, Jim Heppelmann says, "The goal for industrial companies is not to become a digital company. Instead, the goal should be for industrial companies to capitalise on digital technologies to defend and advance their competitive advantage".
"With IIoT it’s critical to first understand what value this is going to give to you as a business and define priorities and a staged approach from there," said Thompson. "ThingWorx helps you deliver immediate benefits without getting bogged down in programming and IT, and offers a secure, scalable platform that will grow with you on your IIoT journey."
LEAP Australia provide solutions for SMEs to get started with IIoT. To leverage LEAP’s experience with PTC’s ThingWorx and get started with IIoT implementation, visit