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This Approach Helps Implement IIoT

EP Editorial Staff | February 20, 2019

Your ERP can be a valuable ally as you work to maximize IIoT implementation.

By Lorraine Howell,  Illumiti

From predictive algorithms that drive efficiencies throughout the production process to networked-based sensors that increase safety for workers, applications of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have the potential to radically re-shape large aspects of manufacturing.

As the IIoT extends its reach into more and more facets of manufacturing, firms are trying to find the most effective ways to realize the promise of IIoT-driven efficiencies. Yet scaling IIoT remains a challenge. A recent SAP-sponsored research paper showed that 39% of firms deploying IIoT are still in the proof-of-concept stage and only 14% are currently running IIoT solutions across multiple departments or sites.

How and where to begin

Incorporating IIoT into your operations can sound daunting, particularly if you’re asking yourself:

• Where do we start in knowing which sensors will work with our machines? 

• What kind of networking infrastructure will we need to increase our efficiency?

• What kind of platform will we have to buy to interpret that data?

These are good questions. Indeed, they are the correct ones to ask in beginning of the process. Like any journey, exploration leads to discovery.

The start of any innovation journey is predicated on achieving one overriding goal: to leverage the appropriate technology (most likely IIoT) to address your business challenges. In many cases, this will result in an improvement of your plant’s efficiency, considering challenges stemming in large part from disruption that is upending your industry.

Next, become an IIoT explorer. This can take a few different forms. For example, you could dedicate resources to explore IIoT yourself, or partner with an external implementation specialist. Either way, this critical explorer phase introduces you to new technologies and illustrates how your competitors use these technologies to make their own plants more efficient.

Exploring leads to the discovery phase in which you consider the best way to match technologies with the business challenges you hope to overcome. The end goal is to develop a customized IIoT solution that fits your specific needs.

Questions you might ask in this phase include:

• How are we managing the process today? What are the challenges we are experiencing? What is working well and what is not?

• What specific goals [production and/or financial Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)] are we trying to achieve?

• How will IIoT technologies help overcome those challenges?

• What is our IIoT implementation timeline?

• What resource allocation (people, time, and/or money) can we dedicate to employing those IIoT technologies?

Implementation options

Balancing what you’re trying to achieve with the practicality of any given IIoT solution takes time. Some mistakes are perhaps inevitable, but you can minimize errors and maximize the efficacy of your IIoT solution by considering three implementation options.

Embedded solutions:

You can embed IIoT capabilities into your existing Enterprise Resource Planning software (ERP) by working with a trusted ERP implementation partner. Some “out of the box” solutions can be readily adapted to a variety of circumstances, setting you up quickly to monitor and maintain your assets through a networked system.

Accelerators:

Some plant engineers know which IIoT technologies they want to employ but are challenged in trying to scale them up. Firms such as SAP can package a factory-wide IIoT solution comprising the right infrastructure, platform, algorithms, machine-learning sensors, messaging to the sensors, and wearable devices. This accelerator approach delivers a broad range of targeted efficiencies across your plant operations.

Design-led innovation:

You’ve learned about IIoT technologies in the discovery phase, but you don’t know how to leverage them. What you do know, however, is you’d much rather be the disruptor than the disrupted. In this case, design-led innovation might be the best approach. An IIoT solutions partner works with your organization to help determine your business challenges, prioritize and validate those challenges, and then brainstorm with a broader group in designing an IIoT solution that aligns with your specific challenges, goals, and resources. This is open-ended innovation, which you can then implement.

Your ERP’s Role

Don’t lose sight of your ERP in all of this, because it is not just a financial system where you monitor and track costs and efficiencies. It’s also a place where you manage and maintain your plant equipment and machinery; it’s your company’s backend. Therefore, integrating IIoT solutions into your ERP is critical to monitoring the cost savings you’re generating through your IIoT solution. 

Data on its own is useless, but with IIoT, you’re collecting a range of data from sensors that can be interpreted and acted upon. For example, sensor data may show that a machine has been waiting for raw materials that haven’t arrived, or that it’s been down too long.

In some cases your IIoT solution will act by itself. For instance, data fed through your ERP from a machine can automatically trigger a work or service order to fix the machine before it breaks down. So, by integrating IIoT into ERP, you can proactively see and solve problems.

When you begin considering new technologies for your plant, the sky’s the limit as to what you can do with them at a later stage. That’s all part of the journey. By keeping key questions and implementation options in mind along the way, you can dramatically increase your plant’s efficiency and improve safety through IIoT. EP

Lorraine Howell is vice president of research & development for Illumiti, an ERP implementation firm and SAP Platinum Partner located in Thornhill, Ontario (illumiti.com). Howell has more than 20 years of experience in SAP implementation in various industry sectors. She can be reached at lhowell@illumiti.com.

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