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Samir Yajnik speaks on what the future of an IoT-steered manufacturing industry looks like.

The manufacturing sector is undergoing a revolution amidst a technological disruption, steered by the advent and advancement of Internet of Things (IoT). The foci have now evolved to putting in place an efficient and seamless way of manufacturing, communicating and operating, with IoT as the backbone and technological advancements as the trail.

A Gartner report in 2013 said that the installed base of things (excluding PCs, tablets and smartphones) will grow to 26 billion units in 2020, a near 30-fold increase from 0.9 billion units in 2009. Within three years, the forecast changed rapidly, with another forecast by Gartner in November 2015 estimating that by 2020, the number of connected things could be estimated at 20.8 billion. This forms the base for Industrial Revolution 4.0 or Industry 4.0 to swoop in a seamless and flexible manufacturing ecosystem running on new embedded technology, real time collaboration, mobility, on-the-fly advanced analytics, intelligence, cloud-based connectivity, and visualisation.

Digitalisation aimed at flexible manufacturing: Companies today are aiming to create a manufacturing ecosystem where customers are involved more closely in the production process to allow a prompt reaction amid dynamic market requirements. Although the factories are yet to be revolutionised by hyper-connected products that can collaborate in real-time to establish smart, virtual and digital factories, efforts are already being made to make such devices a reality.
While smart factories would lead to more automation, better control and optimisation of processes, moving these factories to a virtual factory would help to integrate products and services across different verticals and enhance the productivity of the supplier chain.

Meanwhile, software and applications are expected to interconnect factory assets to magnify their performance and manage them to establish virtual factories that aim to create holistic and combined value by integrating products and services across the extended enterprise. This also aims to magnify supplier chain productivity.

Digital factories, on the other hand, would have the leverage of visualising the product’s design before it is manufactured by banking on the 3D data from products and plants to test and simulate the end-product using software – all to perfect the product’s design, function and performance.

Manufacturing on a global basis: While companies have been exploiting the advantages of costs of labour and ease of access to resources/market for quite some time now, the hyper-connected products are expected to pose a different dilemma—would manufacturers really benefit by producing their products abroad?

None of the manufacturing units are standalone sites anymore as a common digital platform has permeated to every vertical of manufacturing, while advanced and predictive analytics and a seamless shop-floor to top floor integration will help in the strategy and decision-making process.

Going forward, the manufacturing facilities must be ‘globally distributed’, so that units in remote locations become a part of the mainstream network through connected devices and strategies. While manufacturers set newer tools and technologies to offer their customers, the consumption of these offerings is expected to evolve into a pay-per-use pattern. Going forward, organisational data is expected to move to a virtual data center as artificial intelligence will enable 24-hour factories with minimal human intervention. Together, this would initiate reducing the impact of location on manufacturing cost and allow a more flexible manufacturing system.

Virtual manufacturing and simulation: Implementing a digital manufacturing system allows manufacturers to use integrated, computer based systems that can conduct simulations, three dimensional (3D) visualisations, and analytics – all of which could help the companies to enhance the quality of the product and the efficiency of the process. From defining the product design to simulating robotics, factory layout and the analytics needed, IoT will play a crucial role in connecting different processes across verticals to bring superior products into the market.

Technologies like Augmented Reality use 3D data to simulate or intersect reality with digital information and have allowed companies to leverage a virtual reality in systems. Added to that is the technology of 3D printing, which has evolved over two decades to now being capable of reducing unit costs through additive technology and reducing costs for manufacturers.
Bridging the gap between design and end-product: Companies are constantly scouting for leaner methodologies for creating the design, development and industrialisation of products, and are striving to run them simultaneously rather than in a consecutive manner. Concurrent engineering helps here by reducing both – the product development time and the time taken to reach the market, along with improving productivity. This in turn reduces costs for companies and improves their bottom and top line.

IoT holds the capability to transform every aspect of a manufacturing company from integrating shop floor to top floor to enterprise resource planning (ERP), product development, manufacturing execution systems (MES) and product lifecycle management (PLM). It will also allow manufacturers a global competitive edge from smart shop floors.
Getting that edge is what would help companies to differentiate themselves from other manufacturers. Its impact would also reflect on the revenues and costs for the organisation, while paving way for an ecosystem that would aim to lift and enhance the entire sector and its contributions to the economy. These promising attributes associated with IoT implementation and digital manufacturing makes it worthwhile for companies to prep up their logistics to match up to the requirements of a successful transformation into a digital manufacturer – a change that would bring back better results in every way.

The author is president, global delivery, and COO, Asia Pacific, Tata Technologies.

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