Patrick Murphy, IBM North American Practice Leader, Cognitive Manufacturing, Global Business Services, recently posted a blog about smart factories and the digital transformation. He referred to what is known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution or Industry 4.0.
IBM’s take on digital manufacturing is built around “intelligence on demand.” Data-driven autonomous systems, artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning and the Internet of Things (IoT) are vital elements of digital manufacturing. They play an essential role in providing management and shop-floor supervisors with abundant metrics, the ability to visualize data in real time, better ways to analyze results and optimization of manufacturing processes.
But with the average factory generating as much as a terabyte of production data per day, disparate manufacturing systems are only utilizing less than 10% of this data. And less than 1% of it is effectively analyzed to aid decision-making by management or operations personnel. The blog made the point that robotics systems, 3D printing, analytics and AI must be harnessed to help extend machinery lifespan, minimize downtime and increase productivity.
But the big roadblock to achieving the vision of Industry 4.0 is connectivity. Older controllers, PLCs, sensors and devices generally store data either locally or in data historians. But this technology doesn’t provide the data broadly enough for the purposes of factory automation or broad analysis. The digital transformation requires an end to information siloes, broader connectivity and better security. It’s all about moving from management based on bi-weekly or quarterly reports to being able to use analytics to achieve real-time insights and offer easily assimilable informational dashboards based on real-time collection of metrics. This helps machine operators and shop-floor managers to see instantly the state of raw materials, processes, equipment health and more.
Murphy gave the example of a plant with an instrument located 500 feet from the shop floor. Due to the distances involved, it would generally only be viewed once per day. By spending a small amount on connectivity and sensors, such instruments and outlying equipment could be consolidated to provide an assembly line or factory view.
In addition, the level of understanding of assembly line processes would steadily expand. The production smarts of factory floor staff would be combined with an analytics database to be able to fine-tune processes and workflows. It would form an invaluable trove of information that can be used for onboarding of new employees.
Industry 4.0, then, is changing the face of manufacturing. But technologies such as AI, analytics, machine learning and IIoT fall largely into the IT camp. They need to be integrated completely with operational technology (OT) such as robotics, controllers, assembly line systems and more. That requires a Manufacturing Execution System (MES) designed and built for the complex discrete manufacturing while also providing a pathway towards digital transformation.
Without the right MES system in place, no amount of state-of-the-art IT and analytics applications will solve the problems of modern manufacturing. It requires digitally enabled MES to act as the glue between IT and OT.
The iBASEt Digital Manufacturing Suite easily integrates with popular CAD, Product Lifecycle Management (PLM) systems, Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) and other 3rd party manufacturing systems, as well as a wealth of IT applications. The result is the establishment of a digital thread to consolidate process, workflow, operational, component, compliance and tracking information, as well as the wealth of data being generated by these systems and sensors, instruments and IoT-enabled machinery.
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