Driving Manufacturing Transformation with IIoT
Published on : Tuesday 05-10-2021
Across the industrial landscape, companies are implementing IIoT solutions in their facilities to reduce maintenance costs, enhancing overall equipment efficiency.
That the Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT is transforming industry has become too generalised a statement today. Everyone is aware of what IIoT means and how it brings together assets by connecting them via devices enabling communication between them. Also the data thus generated and analysed, and how the intelligence gathered from the insights gained leads to faster decision making and quicker problem solving. The question then is why are the stakeholders still wary of joining the revolution? What could be the reasons?
“There are several,” says Stephen Mellor, Chief Technical Officer, Industry IoT Consortium, where he aligns groups for business, technology, trustworthiness and industry for the Industrial Internet. “Every company is different, of course, but I would say that risk is a major factor,” he adds. The risk of the possibility of failure in the process of implementing new technology solutions; the time it is likely to take to show results; the fear of causing disruption in the production process; and the biggest of all – fear of losing the job should the process of implementation not succeed. “Faced with these kinds of odds, caution is in order. And that caution—while entirely reasonable—will make you wary of joining the revolution,” explains Stephen.
Nitin Kalothia, Advisor, Kaizen Hansei LLP & Partner, Patona Advisory, tends to agree. According to him, manufacturing leaders in the country are not just aware of the benefits of adopting IIoT based solutions but are also excited about it. But when it comes to adoption, due to lack of in-house expertise, companies are often not sure of where to start? “Many leaders are baffled with the question – Are we ready for the journey? Can we afford to make the investments and reap the benefits? Do we have the right skill sets to drive the journey and adopt it effectively on the shop floor? Many leaders are unable to make the investment due to lack of a RoI and business benefits demonstration during the consulting or the pilot phase of the project,” he says.
Then there is that tendency to see someone else do it first and watch how it pans out. “Many Indian companies prefer to wait and watch other organisations adopt any new technologies and assess their feedback before they jump onto the bandwagon. The ability to take risks associated with any new investment and making required changes within the organisation is limited and hence they tend to be followers rather than leaders of a change,” says Sunil David, Regional Director (IoT), AT&T India. “Implementing Industry 4.0 within a manufacturing organisation is not just about Technology but also about People and Process and seamlessly integrating People, Process and Technology. In many organisations you need Strong Leadership to build a Digital culture that permeates through the entire organisation so that all stakeholders are aligned towards the Digital vision of the company. This unfortunately is prevalent in only a few organisations where you have a Leader who is digitally savvy and understands the benefits of I4.0,” elaborates Sunil.
“Increased productivity and reduced downtime, enhanced product quality, personnel safety, customer service, efficient factory operations, improved energy efficiency, predictive maintenance, and better insights leading to improved decision-making potential. These are among the many benefits of implementing IIoT solutions in the digital transformation journey of any manufacturing plant or factory, opines Harish G Kashyap, Principal Oil & Gas Consultant & Digital Transformation Enthusiast. Since no journey is without a few challenges, there are many other points to consider, he says and lists a couple of reasons:
Lack of financial support: To state the facts, IIoT solutions don’t come cheap – at least for now. Hence budget allocation should not consider just the IT setup cost but shall include training and upskilling, cost incurred in mind-set change, motivating the staff towards implementation, etc.
Lack of government support: More support is needed from the government to enable easy and faster acceptance and implementation of IIoT solutions by SMEs and manufacturing firms.
Facing the challenges
So what are the challenges manufacturers face in adopting IIoT solutions? According to Navveen Balani, AI, Blockchain & IoT Leader and Google Cloud Certified Fellow, IIoT is an incremental and complex integration journey involving multiple parties – Manufacturer, Network Providers, Cloud/Platform providers, Specialised IoT Startups, System Integrations and Strategy/Consulting to realise end-to-end IIoT solution. “The first challenge is around finding the right set of partners, skills and expertise and to develop the ecosystem. The second and most important challenge is around building an effective IIoT data strategy. The real value of IIoT is about deriving actionable business insight and data is the key to deliver that value. I have talked about this in detail as part of the skill strategy,” he asserts, also mentioning a few more like the need for defining an effective incremental roadmap and the business value being delivered at each stage, expertise around end-to-end integration, lack of standardisation, brownfield plants modernisation – how to augment the existing manufacturing infrastructure with right sensor/tools and setup secured network connectivity, setting up scalable cloud infrastructure and edge gateway and finally having domain specific data/ML experts, which can build precise models to realise the business outcomes.
“There are many challenges in adoption. But I would like to highlight a fundamental issue that comes up often,” says Sujata Tilak, Managing Director, Ascent Intellimation, a leading provider of IIoT through its PlantConnect platform, which is deployed in areas like environmental monitoring, smart manufacturing, reliability engineering, etc. Speaking from experience, Sujata says IIoT implementations need full involvement of key internal stakeholders and continuous dialogue between solution provider and internal stakeholders. “Many companies embark on IIoT projects without properly planning for this. Many solution providers don’t insist on this. This results in incorrect/incomplete translation of requirements into solutions as well as poor understanding of the implemented system,” she elaborates.
For Raju Battula, National Manager – Technical Support, DesignTech Systems Pvt Ltd, the learning process takes time, which is the first milestone to cross, as there is always a general hesitation in adopting a new technology or process. The second factor according to him is that IIoT implementation requires companies to work with the entire IIoT implementation ecosystem, which consists of system integrators for installing the hardware like sensors, the software consultants that provide the software for analytics and dashboards for the companies to review the machine performance, and allied service providers who would connect and network the both to work flawlessly at the manufacturing unit. The third major deterrent is cost. However, it is the fourth challenge, finding the right partner, technically competent to see the project through, which is very critical. “Even if the company is willing to invest in IIoT implementation, the project has to be handled by the right partner who possesses the industry knowledge, and has the required technical understanding for implementing IIoT,” explains Raju.
Sampath Kumar Venkataswamy, Research Manager, IDC Asia/Pacific Manufacturing Insights, too has listed four challenges, and the biggest according to him is the culture readiness. Ensuring that there are viable use cases and opportunities that are expected to bring in substantial financial gains and educating the internal stakeholders remain distinctly polar. “Quite often data automation is equated to workforce redundancy, which can often dilute the core benefit of IIoT, i.e., data transparency and visibility,” says Sampath. The second major hurdle is around the existing process and organisational maturity which has a significant impact on the overall deployment outlook and success. There are instances wherein a shop floor supervisor upon realising that the daily production output has been frequently coming below the target resorts to a resource augmentation. The third challenge is around the lack of communication between the line of businesses and the IT departments. Though the situation has allayed in the past few years, there are still visible silos that prevent a holistic data integration drive. The last but not the least challenge is the trade-off between retrofits vs greenfield approaches. “Some of the large manufacturers have production assets that are quite outdated and have no means of accessing the operational manuals. Installing sensors to capture run-time parameters can be arduous and would require further rationalisation drives with respect to core manufacturing processes which might disrupt existing operations resulting in substantial margin losses,” he says.
Is the manufacturing sector, especially the SMEs, constrained by the paucity of system integrators? “Not really. IIoT systems tend to involve multiple technologies, and no one company or provider can deliver them all, let alone excel at them. Consequently, there is a need to partner. This was a key driver of the founding of the Industry IoT Consortium in 2014. The founders understood that they couldn’t do everything. SMEs will need to learn how to partner to build IIoT systems anyway. Why pay a system integrator, asks Stephen Mellor. “One reason, of course, is to offload the responsibility and focus on your core competence. But that has disadvantages, particularly around the learning that you need to do as you incrementally improve your systems. And you do need to learn, because otherwise the revolution will come back and bite you,” he cautions.
“I wouldn’t say that paucity of System Integrators is the reason for low adoption amongst the SMEs. But at the same time, it may not be wrong to say that the target segment for SIs in India is not the SMEs. Most SMEs lack the investment maturity to fund technology and digital transformation projects and wait for long durations to get return on their investment. Most SMEs still operate with unskilled and temporary workers, operating on very thin margins which makes it even more difficult for them to begin the digital journey,” points out Nitin Kalothia.
Sunil David, agrees this is a challenge and that SMEs need System Integrators who can provide end-to-end solutions and implement this at a low cost. “In any I4.0 implementation, one first needs to understand what the business challenges are and then come up with a list of Key Performance Indicators that they wish to achieve. Hence it is paramount that organisations have a clear vision, solid I4.0 strategy and framework, identifying the right technologies, IoT, AI, etc., and build a technology roadmap, identify a Digital Champion within the organisation that can work with all functions, manage the implementation and eventually lifecycle management of the entire project,” he elaborates.
“System Integrators often focus to serve the large organisations and hence SMEs face a shortage of the companies that can offer those solutions on a smaller scale but with the same agility and flexibility their business demands,” says Harish G Kashyap. He also believes that these SIs have ready-made solutions which would seldom need business process changes and personnel training, upskilling, etc., to adopt the solutions, which is not a comfortable environment the SMEs like to put themselves in. “SIs should offer SME specific solutions for capturing the untapped market and design customer specific IIoT solutions at a cost-effective pricing and solution delivery models. SIs need to roll up their sleeves and get those boots dirty if needed to provide custom tailored solutions as there is no one size fits all – each SME business and each process is unique,” he adds.
Experts believe lack of skills is one of the main reasons for low adoption. How true is this? “Realising the true value of IIoT requires a combinatorial power of multiple technologies – IoT, AI, Cloud, Edge Gateway, Digital, Networking, along with platforms and capabilities that enable building secure, scalable and connected end to end IIoT solutions, says Navveen Balani, who has over two decades of experience in building enterprise products using exponential technology. “For a SME, getting these diverse skill sets would be quite challenging. But, with proper planning and execution, this can be realised incrementally. For instance, rather than having all skills onboard, the first priority that needs to be worked on is building an effective IIoT data strategy – what kind of data is available, what data is needed, how to capture the data from sensors at what intervals, what insights you want to get out of the data, etc.,” he explains.
“Yes, lack of skills is a contributing factor, besides the cost of investment. Depending upon the scale and volume of manufacturing units, the cost of IIoT implementation can make companies think twice as it involves the cost of hardware, software, and implementation services. Also this is not a one-time cost. In many cases, the companies have to incur annual costs for software license subscriptions, and hardware maintenance. Many system integrators, software developers, and service providers are investing in building the capabilities for implementing IIoT, but the cost factor is a big hurdle to cross. Even if the companies can see and experience tangible RoI in the years to come, the initial investment becomes a challenge,” says Raju Battula, who has tremendous experience in Strategic Consulting in IIoT and Digital Design and Manufacturing.
Sujata Tilak also believes lack of skill manifests on both customer and solution provider sides. But equally important, in her view, is having what is called ‘Digital Champions’ internally on the manufacturer side. These are the people who understand the requirements and business benefits very well. They understand the solution and work with the solution provider to set it up to extract maximum returns. “We at Ascent Intellimation are committed to the IIoT revolution and are doing efforts to evangelize and make the industry ready for embracing IIoT. As a part of this, we have launched a training program for ‘digital champions’. This will help manufacturers to derive maximum benefits from their IIoT implementations,” she explains.
“Lack of internal skills is true for the sustenance and future innovations, which is an incremental effort that is expected to contribute significantly to the organisational growth aspirations. Presence of digital skills internally can reduce the hesitance towards digital initiative rollouts or investments. Once an IoT implementation is completed, organisations need ‘digital engineers’ who have a strong knowledge of shop floor processes along with the ability to analyse the asset data for creating contextualised insights. Quite often, the lack of these convergent skills, more commonly known as the IT-OT (information technology-operational technology) can limit the extent to which industrial IoT related benefits could be realised,” concurs Sampath Kumar.
Of brownfield plants and holistic approach
In the Indian context, IIoT should actually resonate more with the solutions for brownfield plants, yet the response is slow. “For manufacturing companies in India, global competitiveness comes from providing the desired quality product at a cost effective price. We still depend on our ability to provide products at low prices, to stay ahead of global competition. To meet this cost effectiveness, investments in infrastructure, people and other resources have been limited to what is necessary. IIoT implementation requires integration with equipment for seamless data sourcing and in most cases, the equipment does not have the required capability, resulting in high automation cost. Most equipment requires retrofitting involving large investments which becomes a deterrent to project feasibility, says Nitin Kalothia.
Sunil David concurs, saying, “The response is slow because of the fact that many manufacturers, especially those in the MSME segment, are not wanting to do away with the legacy industrial infrastructure. Extracting data and information from older infrastructure isn't easy even though you retrofit with sensors. The complexity is more and the cost of doing it is higher.”
For Harish G Kashyap, brownfield plants and their related projects are themselves very cost sensitive projects and IIoT solutions would pump up the total cost to a higher level. Also, the scope and schedule for brownfield poses enough challenges already and concatenating them with IIoT makes it nearly impossible to execute them along with the IIoT solutions and the needed platform, he opines. “Besides there is the leadership team and the other stakeholders who need to cultivate and sustain the mind-set to embrace the need to incorporate such digital solutions like IIoT within the scope of the brownfield plant turnkey project and effective operations,” he explains.
“In brownfield plants, optimum connectivity solutions are the key. If they have to invest huge sums of money to make their assets connectible with the latest technologies, the RoI math doesn’t work,” says Sujata Tilak. So what is needed, according to her, is to prepare a cost-benefit analysis for each connectivity option. “For example, getting basic data from electrical signals versus electrical signals + sensors versus upgrading/replacing PLC. The sad part is many solution providers don’t get into these nitty-gritties as it involves considerable time investment or some simply don’t understand this,” she says matter of factly.
So how can the manufacturing sector overcome these hurdles and arrive at a holistic approach? “Well, that’s the US$32.3T question. Apart from the many topics raised above, companies should start to learn. What technologies can help improve production? How can we get more visibility on operations? These are not “sexy” technologies; but they are lower risk. As we become more comfortable in using these technologies, we can build up expertise in a Centre of Excellence that can apply its accrued wisdom across the company. In time that will spread—in many ways, says Stephen Mellor.
“The correct approach is to take incremental steps and pick up a use case for realisation, describing what problem is being solved and what would be the business value. The first phase of any use case is to understand what data is available and what needs to be captured and streamlined,” says Navveen Balani, who is of the opinion that ideally any manufacturing IoT realisation can be broken down into five phases: 1. Monitoring & utilisation; 2. Condition based maintenance; 3. Predictive maintenance; 4. Optimisation; and 5.Connecting ‘connected solutions.
“The Indian manufacturing industry is not known to be very proactive or early adopters of new technology and processes. When the new technology is proven in the other markets, or by larger industries here, or by their counterparts in the overseas market, then they are more willing to try it out. While this conservative approach is safe, even when the technology is proven and is being widely adopted in the other markets, we are still wary of using it because it involves change and departure from our known and trusted traditional approach. We need to think from a long-term perspective, anticipate the challenges that may come in terms of competition, changing market or manufacturing trends, and accordingly we need to make the necessary changes today,” says Raju Battula.
“Indian manufacturing organisations do lag their global peers in terms of industrial automation primarily because of lack of compelling use cases that are associated with significant monetary gains. Also, investing in a greenfield is not always viable and would need substantial Capex. The solution could be in the form of creating a virtual greenfield within a brownfield with focus on measurable performance indicators that can make the investment decision more objective in nature,” sums up Sampath Kumar.
(Note: The responses of various experts featured in this story are their personal views and not necessarily of the companies or organisations they represent. The full interviews are hosted online at https://www.iedcommunications.com/interviews)