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Advancing Smart Manufacturing and IIoT—Together or Separately?

Is the Industrial Internet of Things an enabling technology of smart manufacturing? Or could smart manufacturing take a different path?

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Initiatives like smart manufacturing and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are moving forward in many companies. The question is, will they move forward together or separately? I believe they will advance together, but I can understand those who see them as separate.

Before we get too far into the topic, let me first define the terms, since there is plenty of debate even about that.

Smart manufacturing: The intelligent, real time orchestration and optimization of business, physical and digital processes within factories and across the entire value chain. Resources and processes are automated, integrated, monitored and continuously evaluated based on all available information (MESA International).

IIoT: The network of physical objects (“things”) used in industry (i.e., subassemblies, products, product carriers and equipment) embedded with electronics, software, sensors and network connectivity that enables these objects to collect and exchange data with control systems, business processes and analytics using Internet Protocol (IP) (modified from Wikipedia on IoT).

Now back to our central question: Are these initiatives destined to evolve and advance together or separately? Clearly, the jury’s still out. Here is some background on each of these views.

Together: The Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) says, “By automating communication between industrial equipment and systems, IIoT enhances efficiencies throughout the factory, making it smarter.” I agree. I believe that IIoT is an enabling technology for smart manufacturing. In that way, its progress will drive the progress of smart manufacturing. Similarly, as smart manufacturing moves beyond concept and into projects that companies are executing, manufacturers and their solution providers will improve the IIoT technologies that enable those projects. These two will likely advance together.

Separately: Not everyone agrees, however. In a recent MESA survey, more than one-third of manufacturers report that they do NOT believe that smart manufacturing includes IIoT (see figure, above). I understand that viewpoint because there are many paths to smart manufacturing. In fact, IIoT could have uses outside the normal boundaries of how some might define smart manufacturing.

IIoT initiatives might indeed move faster than smart manufacturing because tackling initiatives across the entire value chain is a challenge beyond the company walls. Big corporations like General Dynamics, General Mills and General Motors can flex their muscles and help push smart manufacturing initiatives in specific industries, but IIoT projects can make a lot of progress and provide a lot of benefits within the corporate walls. There will also be pressure if IoT initiatives in consumer markets raise the bar for expectations within the factory walls for similar ease of connectivity, data access, control and analytical capabilities.

In addition, production will still involve people, as well as equipment and products that are not instrumented for IIoT. For some smart manufacturing scenarios, there is not and might never be a business case for IIoT. These scenarios might focus on people and value chain processes.

Which drives the fourth industrial revolution?

There are some people who would argue that either smart manufacturing or IIoT could lead to the fourth industrial revolution. I have a viewpoint on that as well.

Smart manufacturing is the foundation for this revolution. IIoT is not. Even if IIoT advances more rapidly than smart manufacturing, I do not believe it is adequate to lead production companies to their next stage of productivity.

What’s missing in IIoT to fuel a revolution? For one, the enterprise context. Smart manufacturing incorporates not only the plant floor or smart connected factory, but also the smart connected supply chain and the digital thread through the product lifecycle. As with other industrial revolutions, shifts in technology—like IIoT—must work in concert with new processes and ways for people to work to achieve the increased levels of productivity we are seeking in a fourth industrial revolution.

IIoT is a foundational technology, but it only does what it does—it creates communication between “things” for easier data acquisition and analysis. The fourth industrial revolution will require many other technologies and processes. Some will be specific to a piece of equipment or production process; others will work across a plant, enterprise or value network.

What really gets business people excited is when new technologies and new methods of threading them together can disrupt markets and allow companies to offer new services and new value tied to the digital data that new products can generate. For example, IoT-enabled smart products can provide feedback to engineers and producers on how products are performing in the field. What new insights and services can we deliver based on that data?

This is why I believe that it takes more than IIoT to deliver the fourth industrial revolution. It will take IoT and IIoT threaded into smart manufacturing strategies to create new ways to orchestrate and optimize processes in the entire value chain and deliver new service levels to customers.

Moving forward with both

Smart manufacturing is a vision of a new way for businesses to work. Per the definition, it encompasses business, digital and physical processes. Many different technologies—including IIoT—are likely to be involved for even a single plant. Smart manufacturing also involves every discipline from product development to procurement to facilities to sales and finance. There are many paths on which to move toward smart manufacturing.

To succeed with smart manufacturing, companies will be well served to pilot and implement IIoT projects. These can start the learning to ensure you understand how to best leverage this key technology, build staff skills and develop streamlined processes.

Advance your company by advancing IIoT and smart manufacturing. Join “Seeking Common Ground for Smart Manufacturing” May 8 at the MESA North American Conference in Raleigh, N.C., to discuss these and other key questions. This will kick off new ongoing communities focused on supporting each other in various key aspects of smart manufacturing. Whether smart manufacturing and IIoT are part of the same initiative for you, and whether they progress at the same or different paces, you can benefit from learning about and moving forward on both fronts.

>>Julie Fraser is a lifetime member of MESA International, having participated actively in a number of roles since a year or so after the organization’s founding. She also started the MESA Analytics Working Group. As founder and principal of Iyno Advisors, she has researched and written hundreds of reports, papers, presentations and blog posts explaining how software can improve business outcomes in production companies and their supply chain partners. Fraser is a certified Conscious Business Change Agent.


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