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Smart Manufacturing Starts with Smart IT

By Harsha Kotikela

Manufacturing labor productivity growth has been stuck at less than a percent for the last decade or even declining in some cases while the costs have been going up1. Essentially, the output is now directly proportional to the number of hours people work—you might be asking, “isn’t that always the case?” 

Not necessarily. Labor productivity is calculated by dividing an index of real output by an index of hours worked. So, you can impact productivity by increasing the real output—but how? This was done in the last three industrial revolutions, going from hand production to machines, then with advances in production technologies, and finally, with the introduction of connected devices. And now, we’re bringing the same kind of change with “Smart Manufacturing.”

Industrial Revolutions

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Wait, I’m in IT. What do I have to do with Smart Manufacturing?

I started off my career as an IT practitioner, and over the years, I’ve been in many conversations where the role IT plays in contributing to (or even empowering) business initiatives is unclear. So, let me start with a simple example: We’ve recently worked with a customer who wished to implement Smart Manufacturing. While there are multiple use cases to go after, we started off with machine condition monitoring to enable predictive maintenance.

Business Solution: The machines in this case were foaming injection and metal-forming equipment in a continuous production line. The main issue is that the pump pressure can be unstable during the initial start or after the tank pressure changes. Hence, the machine is monitored by an experienced machine engineer to take quick action as necessary; otherwise, they’d be left with excess waste material. So, they had an engineer for every one of these machines. By the way, depending on the enterprise size, manufacturers might have tens to thousands of these machines. (See how this might impact the productivity calculation?) Now, imagine how much easier this all would be if a factory manager could monitor the status of the machine centrally. That’s exactly what we did for this customer.

So, how did the IT team do it? Here are the details.

Here’s the breakdown of what we did: collect data from foaming machine, cleanse that data, centralize data from all the machines, and provide a central dashboard to the factory manager.

First, the foaming machines (edge device) were equipped with OMRON’s PLCs to collect machine signals and then connect to a HW platform (i5 CPU, 8GB RAM) through the ethernet. Then, Nutanix Xi IoT (which is packaged with leading factory equipment automation software) collected data from the PLCs through a FINS protocol, cleansed the data, and finally delivered (via an Xi IoT Edge data pipeline) to a cloud-based data lake for dashboarding. DONE.

Machine Condition Monitoring Solution

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IT makes Smart Manufacturing, well, smarter!

In this example, do you think any other function other than IT would have been able to make this happen? 

Now, take a moment to think about what you in IT could do for quality detection, predictive maintenance, energy management, fast prototyping, etc. These use cases are what make up Smart Manufacturing, and only IT has the power to make them possible. 

After all, the next industrial revolution is on the horizon, and to get ahead, IT will have to do more than manage SLAs, build better features, or fix production issues. They’ll have to be on the front lines of Industrial Revolution 4.0!

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1https://www.bls.gov/news.release/prod2.nr0.htm

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