History proves that evolution comes from real pain
Published on : Friday 08-10-2021
Harish G Kashyap, Principal Oil & Gas Consultant & Digital Transformation Enthusiast.
How is IIoT driving the manufacturing transformation across industry segments?
Technological evolution is ever continuous and never ending. History proves that we are a technology dependent species, and it has always been fully used to make lives easier and step up to the next level.
This unquenched thirst for evolution led to the rise of the industrial revolution. Presently we stand on the shores of the fourth industrial revolution, aka Industry 4.0, and the industry has already started to traverse the unchartered waters offered by this oceanic revolution of the digital era.
As John C Macwell once said, “Change is inevitable... growth is optional”, and industries especially the manufacturing sector along with their entire value chain and the various stakeholders of its ecosystem are no exception to this change that disrupted what we refer to as the Industrial Revolution.
From steam to electricity to internet and PLCs to today’s Smart Factories/Digital twins – industries have experienced change as never before and Industry 4.0 is a faster paced revolution in the digital era that promises growth to those that embrace it.
Today, most industry stakeholders are aware of the many benefits of IIoT, yet are wary of joining the revolution. What could be the reasons?
With a plethora of IIoT solutions that are currently offered in the market, which embed the best of the emerging technologies like Artificial Intelligence, Machine Learning, Edge and Cloud Computing, Big Data to the business of the manufacturing firms and especially to the industrial assets such as machines, IIoT solutions offer many promises.
Increased productivity and reduced downtime, enhanced product quality, personnel safety, customer service, efficient factory operations, improved energy efficiency, predictive maintenance, better insights leading to improved decision-making potential are a handful of the numerous benefits of implementing IIoT solutions in the digital transformation journey of any manufacturing plant or factory, which fuel its evolution into a Smart Factory.
Since no journey is without a few challenges, there are many other points to consider alongside the below listed main challenges that today’s manufacturers face while they start to embrace the present Industry 4.0 technologies to reap the benefits they promise.
Information security is a critical concern in the current post-Snowden era due to the exorbitant amount of data the IIoT devices can harvest and that too in real-time.
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.
As there is always light at the end of the tunnel for those who see it and with proven technologies like end-to-end encryption, token based authentication and with architectures like OPC UA certain risks are already being mitigated.
What are the challenges manufacturers face in adopting IIoT solutions?
History proves that evolution comes from real pain. With the case of the manufacturing sector, this pain is often driven by volatile market demands for improved and more efficient manufacturing processes, keep up profit margins, and cut-throat competition between companies that makes it highly imperative for organisations to seek the help of smart technologies. But as with every new phase of evolution, there are challenges that the manufactures face in adopting IIoT solutions as below.
Workforce upskilling and retention – Firms need to engage and train their workforce and focus on attracting and retaining the right set of resources.
Alignment of Company’s vision and Business Strategy – Companies need to strategize and identify KPIs to measure RoI as promised. Focus shift from Proof of Concept (PoC) to Proof of Value (PoV) is to be practised to emphasise and showcase mainly the business value and improvements that it brings post the IIoT solution adoption.
Lack of capable infrastructure and structured processes – A well-defined road map for implementing IIoT strategy and determining the right use cases and business cases for IIoT implementation is the key.
Lack of a mature ecosystem and infrastructure – It is not enough if a part of the manufacturing setup/factory has implemented IIoT solution. It must be across all areas of the factory, all resources both staff and machines to be getting smarter each day. The entire value chain of the factory, its suppliers, various stakeholders all need to embrace the change and join the revolution.
These challenges happen to deter a few manufacturing businesses/firms from the technology adoption, which might pull them behind their competition in today’s scenario.
Is the manufacturing sector, especially the SMEs, constrained by the paucity of system integrators?
SMEs play a vital role in the industrial growth and economic development of major economies around the world including developing countries like India and overall supply chain business.
System Integrator (SI) companies often focus to serve the large organisations and hence SMEs face a shortage of the companies that can offer them solutions on a smaller scale but with the same agility and flexibility their business demands.
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.
More and more SI companies 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.
Experts believe lack of skills is one of the main reasons for low adoption. How true is this?
How often do we cross our paths with a digital savvy Production/Factory Head or Domain expert? On the contrary, how much domain expertise does a tech savvy IT professional display?
Though not the only reason, a key factor besides others is that it’s difficult to find skilled and tech savvy OT talent with experience or at least a good level of understanding of both OT and IT. The current day skill gap is big enough and must be addressed already.
Industry, especially the SMEs, and academia need to collaborate to close the skills gap, which if widened, would hinder many businesses from getting benefited from the growth prospects offered by IIoT. Organisations need to embed their workforce with technology enthusiastic domain experts who are the need of the hour. They need to onboard the right mix of IT and OT professionals who understand the nuances of domain and technology and cross train them to bridge the gaps in the ecosystem.
With all the above in place and further fuelled by proper and continuous support from local and national government to set up digital experience hubs and a few private sector organisations that can step forward to invest in training and skill enhancement – SMEs can then start to embark on their journey towards digital transformation in their industrial processes and gradually get access to a vast pool of skilled and Industry 4.0 ready resources.
In the Indian context, IIoT should resonate more with the solutions for brownfield plants, yet the response is slow.
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.
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.
However, with the present day Covid19 situation and the global socio-economic and human health crisis it is crystal clear that implementation of the IIoT solutions is critical for SMEs in both short and long runs.
How can the manufacturing sector overcome these hurdles and arrive at a holistic approach?
There is no lock without a key and hence it’s possible to overcome these hurdles by focussing and taking below steps besides many other possibilities:
• Awareness of the emerging technology trends with emphasis on IIoT.
• As it’s a convergence of IT & OT, and hence it’s not just great software or reliable hardware, but the agility and flexibility of the solution and the device as well that makes a great IIoT solution. All this while looking at the problem from a customer’s perspective is needed.
• Better infrastructure, more government support, flexible financial support from business owners and key decision makers, key stakeholder, knowledge support from experts (SMEs) to SME firms.
• Building reliable business partnerships & by fostering collaborative environments for SMEs to learn from one another.
• Custom tailored solutions from technology vendors capable of ensuring data privacy and interoperability between numerous existing traditional legacy systems of the SMEs Digital/tech savvy domain expert talent acquisition and retention of the right talent for the right job.
A Principal Oil & Gas Consultant and Digital Transformation Enthusiast, Harish G Kashyap, has more than 15 years of experience in the Oil & Gas domain, delivering multiple large scale, high budget capital intensive projects. He is passionate about thought leadership of emerging technologies and their convergence with the traditional business domains (IT & OT convergence). He can be reached via www.linkedin.com/in/harishgkashyap or by email firstname.lastname@example.org