Will 2016 be the year that IoT really impacts upon the electronic manufacturing supply chain?


Philip Stoten, Owner of EMSNow Media

Blue circuit board

The first industrial revolution was built on machines lubricated by oil, the current revolution is built on computers lubricated by data, and just as those who controlled the sources and distribution of oil became rich and powerful in the last millennium, those controlling data are gaining influence now.

With data the valuable resource, what will its greatest impact be on your business and how can you make sure you’re a data have rather than a data have-not?

Let’s start with data on the shop floor, your own data, the data that helps you manage your processes and your business.  The battle for control of that data is already underway with numerous players in the industry claiming to be the right data managers or aggregators.  Vendors of machine to machine (M2M) software, MES (Manufacturing Execution System) software, ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) software and much more are drawing up the lines of combat for dominance in this space.  The battle is by no means restricted to those in the software arena either with hardware vendors doing their best to be systems providers or line providers, offering smart solution for the factory floor.

Add in the possibilities around ML (Machine Learning), AI (Artificial Intelligence) using contextual computing and AR (Augmented Reality) and you can envision a heady mix that revolutionises the way we operate the manufacturing environment and the supply chain beyond.  Learning systems, closed loops or cyber physical systems are key to Industry 4.0 and offer real value.

Beyond the four walls of the factory data has yet more to offer.  Smart factories need to be connected to smart supply chains, which respond to demand and influence manufacturing as supply chain disruption occurs.  Creating an intelligent supply chain can have a huge impact upon any business, driving costs and inventory down, efficiency and customer satisfaction up and accelerating time to market.  What we’re all looking for is a smart solution that connects the online ordering process all the way through the fulfilment process to the eventual delivery of the product and beyond.

For me, one of the key benefits of IoT is the potential to utilise crowd-sourced data to improve processes, decisions and as a result outcomes.  The idea that each machine, system, line, factory and supply chain can provide data anonymously to the cloud is hugely attractive.  Crowd sourced data could, for example, tell you which solder paste works best, on which product, in which oven, based on the experience of thousands of examples.  It could provide benchmarked data on line performance and could help improve yields and performance throughout the fulfilment process.

Challenges in this sector include the use of power and of course security.  The USA uses over 2% of the countries energy on data centres and this will certainly rise.  Smarter solutions for power usage at these huge data centres will be needed to ensure data flows quickly, efficiently and without limits.  As for security, we all know the risks and we all know that those who want to disrupt and damage our data usage are as smart as those protecting it.  The industry will have to work very hard to ensure that data cannot be sabotaged or stolen.

Rest assured IoT or big data is coming in every part of our lives.  We have smart phones, but expect smart homes, smart cars, smart cities, smart machines, smart lines, smart factories and smart supply chains to all be part of our future and they’re all lubricated and fuelled by that most precious of 21st century resources – data!

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