IIoT implementation is an extremely customised process
Published on : Friday 08-10-2021
Raju Battula, National Manager – Technical Support, DesignTech Systems Pvt Ltd.
How is IIoT driving the manufacturing transformation across industry segments?
IIoT is at the crux of Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0 implementation. IIoT or Industrial Internet-of-Things basically connects the systems and machines at the manufacturing plant with sensors and IIoT devices that can track, monitor and maintain the data of machines/systems performance. It red flags the malfunctioning or issues of the machine that can help companies diagnose, predict and pre-empt the machines or systems failures beforehand. For example, depending on the machine's requirements and health it can highlight if the pressure in the systems is dropping or increasing, if the temperature is rising or falling, if there is troublesome vibration, if the oil in the machine is going below the required mark, etc. Early detection of the foreseeable malfunction can help companies address the issue in a timely manner, thus reducing the machine downtime and increasing the overall productivity of the manufacturing plant.
It is very difficult and challenging for the companies to physically or manually keep a track of all the machines and check if they are performing at their optimum capacity especially in the large and geographically scattered manufacturing set-ups and facilities. And moreover, after the pandemic, companies have moved up their digitalisation initiatives to establish and streamline manufacturing processes that require minimum physical human intervention. IIoT helps companies check and monitor their systems performance through digital dashboards and analytics.
So the manufacturing segment that supports various industry verticals such as Automotive, Aerospace, Industrial Machinery, Consumer Electronics and Goods, to Healthcare and Medical Devices, are now implementing IIoT in their manufacturing facilities to reduce maintenance costs, and machine downtime, while enhancing the overall efficiency and effectiveness of manufacturing plants and operations.
Today, most industry stakeholders are aware of the many benefits of IIoT, yet are wary of joining the revolution. What could be the reasons?
Perceiving benefits is one thing, and implementing IIoT is another. IIoT implementation is an extremely customised process requiring large services capabilities. Every manufacturing unit depending upon diverse industry verticals will follow unique processes and would have a set-up of varied array of machines and systems. For example, pharmaceuticals manufacturing set-up would be significantly different than an automotive manufacturing unit. Hence a lot of individual machines' data diagnostics, analytics capabilities are required to deploy the right sensors and other devices to read the data and to be able to make sense of it. The industry in India, while they know about IIoT conceptually, are still learning about the implementation process, the best practices, still understanding what to expect and how to use it to derive maximum benefits. It's like an on-job learning for many of the companies. They are comprehending it while they are trying to figure out how to deploy it to derive benefits.
What are the challenges manufacturers face in adopting IIoT solutions?
To continue from the previous response, the learning process takes time, which is a first milestone to cross. Also there is always a general hesitation in adopting a new technology or process when we are comfortable working with the proven traditional approach. But for companies to 'up' their manufacturing game, and remain competent in the changing industrial landscape, they need to move out of their comfort zone by bringing about necessary changes that will only help them revive and better their productivity and manufacturing output.
The second factor is that IIoT implementation requires the 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. Also, the implementation process takes months to complete. So overall it turns out to be a little complicated and time consuming project with various parties involved.
The third major deterrent is cost. While IIoT definitely provides tangible time, and costs benefits, which companies will derive over a period of time. But the initial investment for implementation that includes hardware, software and implementation services components can be quite high, making companies rethink and re-evaluate their decision.
And the fourth challenge is finding the right partner who possesses the technical competency to see the project through. This 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. Competency and capabilities of the partner will matter and affect the quality of implementation, on which is based the performance diagnostics of the entire manufacturing operations of the company.
Is the manufacturing sector, especially the SMEs, constrained by the paucity of system integrators?
There is no dearth of systems integrators. On the contrary there is an abundance of system integrators. However, there is a paucity of system integrators who understand industry specific manufacturing processes. All the manufacturing units aren't alike, e.g., the FMCG manufacturing set-up will be different than apparels manufacturing. The key is to find the system integrators who have the knowledge or capabilities to understand varied machines from different industries so that they can link them up in the IIoT network with the right kind of devices that can read the machine data.
Experts believe lack of skills is one of the main reasons for low adoption. How true is this?
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 in 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.
In the Indian context, IIoT should actually resonate more with the solutions for brownfield plants, yet the response is slow.
Actually brownfield IIoT implementation can be challenging as the plant is already set-up. The IIoT implementation team has to navigate around and work within the boundaries of the existing set-up to build an IIoT network. Especially when we are talking about old manufacturing machines, may it be CNC, or anything, many of these old machines might not be compatible for deploying IIoT data readable devices, which poses a challenge. When we are talking about greenfield or new manufacturing set-ups, IIoT implementation is already a part of the discussion and hence making that plant IIoT enabled is relatively easier.
How can the manufacturing sector overcome these hurdles and arrive at a holistic approach?
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. Even if we are not experimental in our approach, once the benefits of new technology or processes are apparent, we need to be more forthcoming in adopting it. 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, so that we are better prepared to deal with the future and stay competitive and resilient in the times to come.
Raju Battula, National Manager – Technical Support, DesignTech Systems Pvt Ltd, has over 25 years of rich work experience in industry. Over the last two decades, he has gained tremendous experience in Strategic Consulting for Digital Design and Manufacturing, which includes Industry 4.0, Industrial Internet of Things, Product Lifecycle Management, etc. Raju is also proficient in Business Development and supporting Sales Strategy development. He has acquired his Mechanical Engineering from Bangalore University.