Caution: IoT Experience is not Industry 4.0 Expertise!

Beyond IoT, Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 are emerging

Smart manufacturing needs many minds going beyond where we have gone before to fathom it.

Beware of your experience and expertise! It can lead you into a false sense of security and leave you in grave danger of falling behind. Please, don’t be smug.

If you’ve been using the Internet of Things (IoT) for a long time, Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 may look familiar. You already have ways to connect to remote equipment to check on process health. You may have ways to track the processing status and location of work in progress with smart tags. You may even use these to be more agile and handle a higher mix of products. Some of you may have predictive models that help you optimize processes and outcomes.

Yet I’m pretty sure you don’t already have this all figured out.

Even those with deep IoT experience don’t. As I talk to my software marketing friends, some working for companies that make industrial equipment too (like Schneider Electric, Rockwell Automation, and Siemens), it’s apparent that most solution providers are slow in admitting this. Yet, they are learning there is more to learn.

It’s important to look beyond the hype and be truly curious and open to what IoT can bring to manufacturing. The Industrial IoT (IIoT) is not inherently new, but today it means more than connectivity. When surrounded by cloud, mobile, social, big data, and new business value drivers, it can be an entryway into an entirely new way of working.

We have had linear, sequential processes and centralized management approaches. With IIoT, the information is inherently distributed, and plenty of asynchronous production activity will be generating information flows. Some of it will need a central management system, but some will be more autonomous. Same goes for the supply chain and even product design activities. In-the-field products and materials will be exchanging information on-the-fly with local operations. The central systems may need to record that activity, but not necessarily control it.

These distributed and disparate streams of data need to come together. Now that may sound like what Manufacturing Intelligence platforms have been doing for a long time. It is, but on a grander scale with more dynamics and diversity of data. It moves from being a high volume of data from many tags to being truly diverse types of data from tags, devices, and an array of applications. More of a big data challenge.

There are not yet standards on which to develop your strategy. So again a warning not to get too entrenched. Over time, there will be winning standards and formats – it’s just not yet clear what those will be.

The Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association International‘s (MESA) theme is now Smart Manufacturing, and that’s for a reason: there is much to explore, learn, and explain. Having this independent, not-for-profit association of solution providers, manufacturers and producers come together to work through the questions is a great step forward.

So do you know IIoT? Probably.

Are you an Industry 4.0 or Smart Manufacturing expert? Probably not. It’s evolving. The full picture is emerging, and if you’ve already decided you know what it is, you may miss it.

No one has this expertise – yet. So you’ll need to keep an open and curious approach to keep up as you and others learn. Enjoy the adventure!

 

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