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Real-World IoT Strategies for the Mid-Size Manufacturer

Though many manufacturers are waiting to see how current technology trends develop, it’s time for smart businesses to get over the Internet of Things and get on with it.

Terri Hiskey, Vice president, manufacturing portfolio marketing, Epicor Software
Terri Hiskey, Vice president, manufacturing portfolio marketing, Epicor Software

If you’re a bit mystified about the Internet of Things (IoT) and Industry 4.0, you’re not alone. Most manufacturers are more focused today on the shift changes taking place every day on their shop floors than the paradigm shift that is being ushered in by IoT.

But it’s time to get real about IoT. Those fears and misconceptions holding you back from moving forward and putting an IoT strategy into place? They could potentially be opening the door for smaller, smarter and leaner companies to surge ahead.

Self-reporting, connected technologies are poised to disrupt industry as we know it and savvy manufacturers want to be on the right side of this trend. According to PwC, 55 percent of businesses will see a return on investment from IoT in two years or less. This means manufacturers that have begun to put IoT to work might already be gaining traction with these initiatives.

Many small and mid-market manufacturers have taken a wait-and-see approach because IoT initiatives can seem daunting. They don’t have to be. You don’t need to boil the ocean; there are processes in your facility today that can likely be IoT- and/or cloud-enabled. Start there and start now!

It’s important to get moving with understanding how and where IoT can aid your business. But how do manufacturers determine the how and where?

How to start
In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. Got a tech-savvy intern or a young professional on your team? Assign them to research and develop recommendations on where and how an IoT approach might benefit your business. They’ll relish the opportunity for a chance to think outside the box and you’ll kickstart the IoT ideation process with minimal investment.

Network with your peers at events or in online communities to learn how they got started on their IoT journey. What vendors were beneficial in educating them on IoT strategy and execution? Perhaps you can then visit their website, attend a webinar and/or arrange for an onsite visit to get their take on the IoT potential and opportunity in your business.

Next, consider doing some journey mapping. This process of documenting the customer experience can give you an understanding of how customers are interacting with your business today so you can identify areas for improvement moving forward.

Where to start
In every business, there are gaps and areas for improvement in processes that impact the customer experience and add extra time and cost into the transaction. These represent tremendous opportunities for IoT.

Next, think about how improvements can be quickly and easily attained. Don’t make the mistake of thinking you must bring in an expensive consultant; in many instances, you can work with what you already have to digitally enable processes. Case in point: If your enterprise resource planning (ERP) system is mobile-first, you already have a solid framework for Industry 4.0.

Imagine providing a mobile interface to a sales person who can provide a quote or critical status updates to a customer while on the road. Or a mobile IoT strategy to assist with delivery scenarios, where personnel armed with tablet devices can eliminate paper bills of lading, support greater agility and streamline invoicing.

Adding inexpensive sensors to machines can provide real-time alerts when consumables are running low, when temperatures are out of range, etc. This proactive monitoring and management can help manufacturers maximize uptime, quality control and output.

All great things start small. By keeping IoT initiatives focused and manageable, manufacturers can achieve small wins that provide great advantage.

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