This piece was originally published in the September/October 2019 issue of electroindustry.
Each year, the NEMA Board of Governors meets to review the successes and challenges of the past year and map out the next. One of the activities I look forward to the most is the update on the current year’s Strategic Initiatives and the projects to be undertaken the following year. The Strategic Initiatives research issues that manufacturers are facing and give NEMA manufacturers insights unique to our industry—insights not always available more broadly.
One of the topics covered extensively at our meeting was the continued growth and importance of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). IIoT affects nearly every business—either by adding new functionality to products or by improving the processes for manufacturing and delivery. And in the IIoT era, the physical product isn’t the only deliverable for your business. In some instances, the data and information derived from the data may have worth beyond obvious uses of data, such as productivity enhancements. For example, by using a digital twin, system operators could predict when a piece of equipment needs to be replaced—potentially preventing the unexpected shutdown of the production line.
At its core, IIoT is about communication. Over the past century, there were many changes in how we communicate. From the development of the telephone and fax, to email, to text, and more recently to social media, we can communicate faster, which enables us to be more productive personally and professionally. In a similar way, with IIoT we are moving from taking months collecting subjective, and often contradictory, feedback for products to the ability to monitor real-time usage and performance of the product. In some settings, systems can be adjusted remotely to improve efficiency and reliability.
By analyzing the data provided by new sensors and networks, manufacturers can make improvements to their production lines, and even modify features within existing products to account for changes based on that heretofore unavailable data. For instance, they can shift machinery within a plant to minimize impact while performing preventive maintenance based upon predictive modeling. Others can use data to adjust where parts are sourced based on inferred supply chain issues. In short, by gathering and then analyzing data, it is now possible for manufacturers to gain important insights and spot trends in near real time. As time goes on, it gives adopters of IIoT the right tools to adjust to future events, which turns general market ebbs and flows into opportunities to grow their business.
As the systems and predictive analytics become more accurate, those with information from the IIoT are positioned to lead the electroindustry. Many businesses can analyze customer tendencies to forecast future trends. With artificial intelligence, big data, and other analytics, we may soon be able to predict— accurately predict—where customers are moving based on purchases, social media commentaries, and other factors we were never able to track previously.
As manufacturers, we’ve all been challenged balancing a speed–quality–cost triangle. With IIoT we have a powerful capability to make the myriad decisions that constitute a business operation more efficiently and effectively. Customer expectations will continue to rise, so prudent manufacturers will make the effort necessary to put IIoT to work in a far more integrated, data-informed fashion. ei
Mark J. Gliebe
Chairman, NEMA Board of Governors