Big Data, Smart Factory, the 4th wave – the terms used to talk about the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) can make it sound as if this technology is only accessible to companies willing to make massive infrastructure investments and overhaul their operations. Fortunately, with unobtrusive, non-contact sensors, wireless connectivity, and software as a service, you can easily start realizing the benefits of the IIoT quickly with a simple project that builds on your existing assets.
For food & beverage manufacturers that need to be extremely cautious about food safety, batch management, and strict quality control, a simple, scalable IIoT project plan is an excellent strategy to learn more about what exactly the IIoT can do for your business. For a simple and successful project, follow these four steps:
1 – Define goals that speak to all stakeholders
Often, even if the operations manager can see promising opportunities to exploit the IIoT in production, there’s too much resistance both from upper management and the factory floor to make the needed changes. However, resistance is usually more about psychology than technology. To overcome reluctance, tie the project in to a company business objective such as increasing market share on a specific product, or adding capacity on one equipment. The operational efficiencies you’ll achieve with your connectivity project, such as decreasing downtime and speeding up cycle time can directly benefit these bigger goals.
Defining specific goals not only helps get buy-in from upper management, but also sends a positive message to the people on the floor who will be most affected by the change. There’s a huge difference in sending a message to workers that says the company has big plans and they’re a critical piece of that strategy versus the message that they’ve been doing something wrong and automation is being implemented to fix it. If you anticipate conflict from the shop floor about monitoring, consider implementing an incentive or reward program that requires precise data. Tie the implementation of monitoring to the incentive program so it isn’t perceived as “spying.”
2 – Set the initial project up for success
Choose an area where you know that a connected solution can have an impact. Set up this initial project as a learning experience that can help everyone understand the power and potential of the IIoT for the company. Common areas to look at include inefficient manual steps in a monitoring or reporting procedure, and communication gaps in how information is conveyed from the shop floor to management. Involve people at all levels from the beginning, and invite input and suggestions. The more people feel like they’re involved in the project, the better your chances of success.
3 – Demonstrate the value of the data you collect and take security seriously
The most secure solution is to have no connectivity. People will ask how safe data is that’s stored on the cloud. Be prepared. It’s up to you to prove the value of the level of connectivity you’re recommending. Have a reason to collect and store every piece of data. Be ready to explain what it means, who’s using it, how it benefits the company, and how it’s protected. How does it have a positive impact on KPIs? How does it help management make better decisions?
Your first project will set the tone for how your IT security team feels about your IIoT projects. You need them on board. Build security best practices in from the beginning and show that you’re enforcing them.
4- Be transparent about any challenges or issues that come up
If you made a strategic project choice, then showing an impressive ROI calculation will be fairly easy. Keep in mind that your first project is also meant to be a learning experience. People learn from mistakes. Explain any problems or issues that come up and how they were solved. A transparent approach is your opportunity to build confidence in the flexibility and adaptability of the system.
Once you have a working connected system in place it will be much easier for people at all levels in the company to feel more confident that they understand what you’re trying to do, what an IIoT project entails, and how they can benefit. Even if you decide that you want to measure something else, you can re-use the components from your initial implementation. Either way, you’ve gained knowledge and built a strong foundation for future projects. Momentum can build quickly from a first project, replacing your previous problem of overcoming resistance with a new problem: keeping up with the demand for more connectivity.