First an apology! I am always telling people not to use acronyms in their copy and there I go using three in the title and one that I made up myself. Let me explain these acronyms. IIoT is Industrial Internet of Things, a world where everything is connected to everything else creating trillions of connections. EMS I think we all know, but for the sake of accuracy it is Electronic Manufacturing Services.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is central to the premise of Industry 4.0, a world where a product self identifies at the start of its life, probably through an RFID device or barcode on a PCB or chassis, and manages its own way through the manufacturing process and through the supply chain, communicating with each machine or component or process it comes in contact with. This system is based around a lot size of one, producing an efficient and totally customizable supply chain. There I go again with another acronym, RFID, that’s Radio Frequency Identification.
Moving the whole argument forward beyond terms like Industry 4.0 or the digital factory and taking into account the desire for more automation, more mass customization, more build or configure to order, and then factoring the availability of big data and high speed communication we move forward to the Internet of Manufacturing (IoM).
I’ve researched and debated Industry 4.0 for more than a year now and find it a strong topic for discussion in Germany and a topic of growing interest in Asia, whilst the rest of Europe and the Americas seem largely oblivious to the term. Yet the drivers of factory automation are the same worldwide and the demand for every machine to participate in a connected and intelligent manufacturing system are universal.
What is also universal, and also fundamental, is a desire for traceability. Not just approximate traceability that might define batches, or sources, but fanatical traceability that defines every individual part or process in detail.
What we need universally is a system where every machine is able to do a number of things:
- It must detect external influences, recognizing each as unique, and recording them. This could be components, consumables, operators, or the machines elsewhere on the line;
- It must be able to record the process it has performed with those influences, including all the process parameters;
- And it must be able to communicate to the outside world where some intelligent system can make use of the data;
If these three criteria are met then the machine is ‘IoM Ready’ - that is t say that it can operate within the Internet of Manufacturing. An ecosystem where everything is ‘IoM Ready’ can provide total control, total closed loop feedback and total traceability. This system is the minimum environment in which artificial manufacturing intelligence can exist or be developed to improve the process, driving quality and yield up and cost down.
You can only improve what you can measure, so if you measure everything, surely you will be able to improve everything, and surely that’s the objective. An obvious benefit of measuring and recording everything with IoM, or the digital factory, is visibility backwards and forwards. By backwards I mean traceability, being able to see exactly what happened and why. This means when a recall occurs or a batch of product starts to fail in the field it is clear what went into to them, where they were made, how they were made, and hopefully some insight into what went wrong. In terms of forward, when we have all the data and measurements we can also make predictions consummate with external influences, such as assessing the likely impact of a natural disaster that impacts the supply chain, or what-if scenarios if products ramp at a particular speed or in a particular region.
All in the entire thing boils down to visibility. We all want it, we all want 20/20 hindsight along with an accurate crystal ball to see into the future and tell us that the supply chain and the manufacturing ecosystem can manage variability in an agile and dynamic manner.
So, let’s add IoM to our vocabulary, and let’s define it quite precisely. If you agree, disagree or have a strong opinion either way, call me on it. Tweet me (@philipstoten) and use the hashtag #IoM.
Surely one more acronym won’t hurt, will it?
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