Industryweek 28444 Iot Manufacturing

Prepping for IIoT Integration: Questions C-Suite Should Ask

March 15, 2018
Navigating the digital transformation of your manufacturing process or supply chain doesn't have to be painful if you first know what questions to ask.

In every business, the Internet of Things keeps encompassing more sensors, processes, projects and departments. It won’t be long before we start referring to it as the Internet of Everything.

As this recent Verizon commercial shows, even the world’s oldest professions, such as fishing, rely on IoT data, in this case provided by temperature sensors, to ensure the product stays cold and fresh on its journey from the sea through the supply chain, and to a consumer’s plate.

Even for CEOs not in the food industry, this example provides an excellent framework for executives to wisely deploy their own IoT solutions, says Alan Mindlin, technical manager at Morey Corporation, a provider of electronics and communications solutions for manufacturers large and small.

It's much simpler than the complex parts you may manufacture, but the deployment is the perfect solution to get the best quality product to the customer.

And it answers what Mindlin, and many other IoT experts, say is the root question: "What’s the data you need to improve your business? Will this solution get you that data?"

And being prepared to answer these questions prior to speaking with an IoT integrator could be the difference between keeping up with or surpassing the competition.

“When you’re laying out your IoT plan, you need to understand what the data you need to improve your business, what it’s going to show you and how to use it to your advantage,” says Mindlin who started in hardware four decades ago and has worked for Bell Labs and AT&T. “And the process to act on that data has to be figured out at the same time.”

This includes a comprehensive evaluation of the hardware, software, firmware, architecture and communication, he says.

In terms of keeping fish at an optimal temperature, and preventing spoilage, the data is clear, as is how to log and send it: a wireless temperature sensor. But how should you best use this temperature data to your advantage and quickly act on it?

Let’s say during shipment, the sensor in the fish crate indicates a rise in temperature. That data works best by triggering an automated action plan, putting into motion a quick to prevent loss of product and profits.

This is where your departments need to meet and decide best course of action based on how your business specifically runs. That’s something only you can answer.

Should the system ping the driver to lower the truck freezer’s thermostat? Will a tech at the home office need to walk the driver through a fix? Or will the issue need to be escalated to the fleet manager to order a new truck to offload the cargo to?

And what other data is out there that can provide actionable insights? Are their multiple sensors in the truck telling you the same thing, or just one? You wouldn't want to send a new truck or repair tech out if the problem is one of the crate's lid popped off.

This will certainly involve your IT department’s input to automate, but it doesn’t have to be painful.

“You may already have all the procedures — in a handbook or computer program,” Mindlin says. “Now you’re just getting the trigger information automatically.”

The question of what hardware or software to use will be figured out below the C-suite, but you need to promulgate what the big business problems are.

“The CEO will see things bubbling up from below," Mindlin says. “They’re not going to wake up one day and say ‘Damn, I need IoT today.’ They’re going to see a report that they keep losing 20% of the fish loads because the temperature is wrong. They’ll see loss reports. Or maybe they’ll hear the COO complaining you pay too much on maintenance calls when nothing needs to be fixed.”

This way, your team can work backwards and find out what data you don’t have, or what you need to have faster, or who needs it first. In the maintenance field, this could be the difference between a packaging machine you need to complete a delivery not going down at all versus several hours or days.

Mindlin advises to also work out worst case scenarios from collecting critical data, for example, with medical device manufacturers, where HIPAA laws and FDA mandates come into play. Ergo, the data must be protected at a much higher level than a flounder’s body temperature. There are random number generators and decryption processors small enough to fit in these devices that add an extra level of cybersecurity.

And if that IoT device automatically injects a drug cocktail into a patient, are there safeguards in place to ensure the data is correct and detect anomalies? For instance, if a hacker wants to change the dose, will your system recognize the data has changed and prevent this from happening?

In the traditional manufacturing space, this would apply to machine controls and prevent a Stuxnet-type scenario from damaging the equipment vital to your operation.

This isn’t to say potential cybersecurity risks should make you second guess IoT adoption right now. Your biggest concern should be "FOMO" as the electronic components keep getting more efficient and cheaper.

So now the only question is what are you waiting for?

“With the cost reduction stream from [reducing waste and unnecessary downtime] from having that data at your fingertips, your business is going to run better," Mindlin says. "And then you're able to use that money to buy the next great thing."

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