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As a manufacturer, you likely face intensifying global competition, accelerated design and go-to-market cycles, and continuous pressure to increase overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) and operational efficiency. Most organizations have worked hard to squeeze maximum returns from their existing equipment—which is why the Fourth Industrial Revolution (often referred to as Industry 4.0) holds such promise.

In this blog series, we’ll discuss how discrete and process manufacturers are making Industry 4.0 a reality by addressing people, process, and technology challenges. This first post covers some best practices that can help you get started on the right foot and move smoothly from pilot to production.

The pilot purgatory trap

By uniting digital and physical technologies, Industry 4.0 offers the potential to use data to make better decisions, improve customer satisfaction, predict maintenance needs, generate new revenue opportunities, and gain new levels of equipment efficiency and control. The Internet of Things (IoT) is at the heart of Industry 4.0. IoT enables you to unite the world of physical objects with the unlimited universe of data and perform advanced analytics at the far edge of the cloud—it’s the foundation of transformation.

Cracking the Industry 4.0 code can deliver significant business value. With high reliance on industrial equipment, manufacturers have been among the first to recognize the opportunities inherent in IoT. Most likely, your organization has IoT projects at various stages of development. However, if you’re like most, you may be stuck in “pilot purgatory.” In spite of significant investment of time and talent, IoT initiatives haven’t yet turned the corner to big efficiencies and ROI.

Achieving results requires a strong vision of measurable business value and the right technology approach to connect data from the edge to the cloud. IDC predicts that, by 2021, over 70 percent of manufacturers around the world will use IoT data to enhance automation and operations and gain competitive advantage.[1] Let’s take a look at five best practices to ensure you can get a successful pilot off the ground—and move quickly and seamlessly to production.

1. Work with what you’ve got

Manufacturing is an equipment-intensive business that requires large capital investments. Ripping and replacing machinery just so you can connect your equipment is rarely an option. You can either wait for an equipment refresh cycle—which can take years or decades—or you can leverage technology that works with your existing plant and offers full interoperability of your current machinery. Solutions that are built to work with open industrial interoperability standards, such as OPC UA, avoid the roadblocks that come with proprietary systems. This has another benefit, as well: no vendor lock-in. By separating the standards from the system, you ensure you’ll always have options that are cost-effective and best fit your operational needs.

2. Get to scale at speed

Many pilots work well on an experimental scale but require significant changes to become production ready. One way to address this is to start small and scale in sprints. Start with a proof of concept, then take what you learn as the impetus to iterate and grow the solution. Keep scalable infrastructure in mind from the get-go and have a vision of how you will operate your platform once it’s in production. Using the same platform to build your pilot that will support your full-scale solution requires advance planning, so don’t overlook this.

3. Harmonize your data

Raw data from a manufacturing line isn’t easily digested. It has to be standardized, enriched, and analyzed before it delivers value. What’s more, it should be consumable by many different types of systems, from ERP to business intelligence. And, it has to stay secure all along the way. As with the interoperability point above, data standardization and compatibility are critical. A starting point is the Open Data Initiative, a joint project of Microsoft, Adobe, and SAP, which enables data to move seamlessly across systems, making data a renewable resource that flows into intelligent applications.

Incorporating multiple kinds of data helped Sandvik Coromant create a factory of the future. By adding embedded intelligence to a wide range of machine tools, the company can capture more data from the operation that can be used to automatically adjust equipment, notify technicians when maintenance is needed, and alert plant managers of a potential failure.

4. Find the right partners

Companies that are succeeding with IoT and Industry 4.0 aren’t going it alone—they’re selecting strategic partners with the scale, vision, and domain expertise to drive significant change. Choosing a vendor with a comprehensive offering can make managing your technology less complex because you’ll have one pane of glass for much of your IoT ecosystem. At the same time, you’ll want to see a proven track record of innovation—yet maintain the confidence that your partner has the market presence to stick around for the long term.

This approach benefited Ecolab, a leading provider of water, hygiene, and energy technologies, as it sought better ways to collect information from more than 36,000 customer water systems. Building on a platform of Microsoft technologies, the company developed new water monitoring technologies that integrate with on-premises equipment. The company has been able to deliver 100 percent ROI to its clients through optimized water usage.

5. Ready your workforce

With all this talk of intelligent machines, it’s critical to remember that the real intelligence lies with your people. Understanding and addressing how IoT and Industry 4.0 will change how they work is as essential as the technology you choose. You can minimize disruption with solutions that fit seamlessly into the workday, but it’s also important to actively assist workers with the transition to new ways of doing things—on the factory floor and beyond.

That’s one subject we’ll cover in our next post in this digital manufacturing series, when we’ll hear the perspectives of managers and workers on IoT-enabled assembly lines—and how IoT is changing their jobs for the better.

Explore real-world examples to help you solve your business challenges using IoT.

[1] Source: IDC FutureScape: Worldwide Manufacturing Business Ecosystems 2019 Predictions, EMEA44378918, October 2018.