Thursday, January 22, 2015

Under the Hood of a "Connected Factory"

Until recently, most manufacturing plants operated like they were built on desert islands, isolated from other factories and from the business networks, supply chains, and customers they depend on. For managers at these “disconnected” factories, the feeling was like flying blind, with only hazy visibility into downtime and quality problems. Rarely did they understand (or address) the root causes of inefficiencies.
This is a recipe for high costs and non-competitiveness, so the smartest manufacturers have been rushing to retool. Today, more manufacturers are using IoT (Internet of Things) and IP networks to connect everything within the plant and share information across multiple locations and business networks. Once machinery and systems are connected, manufacturers can harness the information to automate workflows and maintain and optimize production systems without human intervention.
Iconic motorcycle maker Harley-Davidson does this at its York, Penn. plant, where the company installed software that keeps a record of how different equipment is performing, such as the speed of fans in its painting booth. The software can automatically adjust the machinery if it detects that a certain measurement—such as fan speed, temperature, or humidity — has deviated from acceptable ranges.
“What used to take hours or days to troubleshoot problems now takes seconds,” the plant’s infrastructure design manager said. Plus, adding machines to the line is plug-and-play easy, allowing for quick changeovers to new models and reducing time to market.
Scores of other manufactures are getting connected lately, adopting new plant architectures that converge operational technologies (OT) with global IT networks. As a result, companies are reporting new levels of overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), supply chain responsiveness, and customer satisfaction.

Wireless and mobility are key features of the new factory floor. Toolmaker Stanley Black & Decker, for example, has attached small RFID tags to parts to help tablet-carrying floor managers spot and fix bottlenecks on the line. These are just a couple examples of the new breed of Web-connected factories that is transforming the face of global manufacturing. To dive deeper, see our recent white paper that explores the technologies behind this worldwide manufacturing renaissance.