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The Visible Value Blog


Posted by Zebra EMEA

October 11, 2016 at 7:00 AM


Periodic innovations in technology transform the way we work, are informed, and entertained – the internet and mobile computing spring to mind in recent memory. We’re now in the midst of a new era of innovation thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT): a trend that has been termed ‘Industry 4.0’, for its potential to spark a new industrial revolution. But what does it mean for manufacturing? In my view it means significant disruption and ­opportunity.



The heartbeat of the momentum powering the changes in manufacturing is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT describes an environment where smart sensors can be attached to items to give those items a digital voice – a voice that can be connected to your back office over the internet. We call this data streamed from items Enterprise Asset Intelligence (EAI).


In manufacturing, pretty much any item can have a smart tag attached to it – vehicles in the supply chain, totes and boxes, raw materials, components, equipment, machines and robots, people, and many more. As manufacturing is a complex system relying on the timely interaction of many elements, the more visibility that you have over those elements, which EAI provides, the easier it is to plan and ensure the smooth progress of your line.


Manufacturers see the potential – around 38% already have sensors embedded in their equipment – ­ ­– and going forward they expect to embed another 30% with sensing capabilities. The intelligence provided by EAI can be analyzed in real time by Big Data systems and accessed by your line teams using mobile computers to help them make more informed and effective decisions. It will also help you find ways to refine workflows across your operations to shave seconds off processes, drive down defects, work more safely, cut costs, and improve productivity. While I cannot go into all of these here, I take a closer look below at the potential to save costs and the concept of a frictionless workflow, which will be hugely disruptive.



So how can EAI help you reduce costs? One of the main ways is to proactively prevent line closures. Every minute your line is down costs money and damages competitiveness. EAI can help prevent this with smart sensors monitoring your machines. The sensors can alert your industrial control teams to anomalies. Pre-emptive maintenance can then take place during planned downtime to head off the potential for machine failure. 


But what’s really interesting with IoT is how it changes the dynamics of manufacturing. In the past, success belonged to those who could predict demand long into the future and use this foresight to gain an edge through more effective planning and optimization of their operations (e.g. hedging component prices). Things have changed. We don’t have the luxury of such predictability now – not when consumers want items built to order and expect items to be produced and dispatched faster than ever before. With this in mind, in many core manufacturing markets, the concept of a schedule is vaporizing; we’re moving into a new era of dynamic planning where the ability to spin on a dime and adjust immediately to order and demand determines success.


The only way to achieve a real-time flow of information and avoid chaos in this new, dynamic, and fluid world is to embrace IoT to ensure that information from every area of the business is collected, analyzed, and shared with teams in real time when and where they need it. For more on how we see manufacturing changing, please take a look at our Vision Report.


Topics: Manufacturing, Internet of Things, Enterprise Asset Intelligence, Industry 4.0, IoT