Almost anywhere on the planet, you can buy electronics or cars from China or Taiwan or Korea or Japan, fruits and vegetables from Latin America, or furniture from Italy.
And if you work for a major manufacturer? Your products too may well be consumed around the globe.
Container ships before computers
Only a few decades ago, this globalization was surreal. The vast majority of goods had to be produced near the consumer.
Then in 1956 a converted World War II oil tanker, the SS Ideal X, set out from New Jersey with its cargo packed into 58 containers. In the port of Houston, Texas, 58 trucks waited to be loaded with the containers. This was the voyage of the first commercially successful container ship; a new age was born.
Containerization was a quiet but influential invention of the 20th century, a significant factor in creating the global economy we know now. By many orders of magnitude, containers inflated the number of products that could be shipped, forever changing the world of commerce.
And as a result
The reality for manufacturers changed markedly after the birth of container shipping.
Once your products could be shipped worldwide, and of course your competitors’ too, quality, cost efficiency and safety took on a whole new level of importance. Now you were competing on a whole new playing field, of a vastly increased size. And your customers were often distant, removed from you by space, time, and often culture as well.
What had worked in a more local, intimate environment, with lower competition, was often inadequate for the new age – everything had to be tightened up! And small strategic advantages could make a huge difference for survival and thriving.
The role of Smart Manufacturing
Into this new world came the next transformation – computers. But manufacturing, a capital-intensive business, rarely led the charge – capital-intensive businesses don’t change rapidly.
As well, the culture of manufacturing was a very physical one, with tight connections between human and machine. Visit any factory floor and you’d see a foreman’s pride in his developed physical mastery of his machinery. These bonds proved to be a considerable obstacle to the new virtual onslaught.
But the change was of course unstoppable. We’ve all been hearing about Industry 4.0 and Smart Manufacturing for many years now. The concept is simple – just integrate technology and software systems in full to your manufacturing process, in order to meet the changing demands and conditions in the factory, the supply network, and customer needs.
Really, how difficult can that be?
How difficult? And how well understood?
Of course, for many, it appears very difficult. And just to make the challenge more daunting, the sky’s the limit in terms of improvement. Finally, to further increase the pressure, the effect on profitability is considerable. Implementing technology as a competitive advantage can increase profits dramatically, and leading companies around the world know it.
And yet. While inter-related concepts such as Smart Manufacturing, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and Augmented Reality (AR) are mentioned more and more in conversations of the more tech-minded people, according to a 2016 of MPI Group study, only 54% of manufacturers in the USA knew what IIoT actually was. Even more worrisome, only 12% of manufacturers had a true strategy to implement it.
What stands in the way? The old battle …
One of the main obstacles that makers face in implementing IIoT in their processes is the divorce between their Information Technology (IT) and Operations Technology (OT) departments. Some don’t even realize they have an OT department, even though they work with its members daily!
At Factora, we see many cases where controls engineers and software engineers don’t get along. It’s often a cultural more than a technology issue, but that does not make it easier to solve – in some ways it makes it harder.
It’s crucial to build the two departments together so they can benefit from each another. Network infrastructure needs to accommodate machine-to-machine communications together with machine-to-enterprise communication, to bridge the gap that separates the two universes. This builds the foundation on which technology can be truly a tool to the manufacturing process.
Success is wrapped around how you choose
For many mid-size companies, the new investment in technology is seen as the necessary evil of the 21st century. Something we know we need but can’t see the measurable results of, or the real worth. A bitter pill to swallow.
It does NOT have to be like that!
Invest in technology in the right place, at the right time, in accordance with your business strategy, and your ROI will be rapid. As well, the results will be evident. We see this at Factora every day.
And it’s even more true for late converts. At the beginning of the journey, there are always quick wins to be had. The trick is to start with the business goal – NOT the technology.
With the Factora B-M-T model, Business strategy drives Manufacturing decisions that then drive Technology choices. Our experts in these three areas work together to make sure that every technology investment is driven and justified by a greater business need.
The bitter pill isn’t just sweeter than you thought, it’s smaller too
For late converts to Smart Manufacturing, the good news is that the necessary technology is now much more affordable. Today we have cheaper and more powerful sensors, near-infinite data storage available for a small outlay, and an ever-increasing range of affordable platforms and data-crunching tools to analyze.
Better yet, IIoT can now provide a shortcut to automation, for those who have lagged the game – you can find out more about this new leapfrog approach here – Underinvested in Automation? Leapfrog to Smart Manufacturing!
It’s an exciting time for manufacturing. Technology is more than ever at your service, and the sky’s the limit.