By Vishal Barapatre, CTO at In2IT Technologies
We enter the ‘digital industrial era’, manufacturing is evolving in fascinating directions
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), sometimes referred to as Industry 4.0, represents a paradigm shift for industrial and manufacturing companies across the world. In addition, with South Africa’s manufacturing sector accounting for a sizeable proportion of all exports, local firms have a fantastic opportunity to capture the advantages of this new era.
The IIoT harnesses the power of connected devices in industrial environments, sending data to powerful analytics engines hosted on Cloud-based servers, which transform vast volumes of data into actionable insights to inform operational decisions.
In this way, it speeds up the flow of knowledge, generates new efficiencies, and cuts out wasted effort and wasted costs from the system. IIoT networks of intelligent devices allow manufacturers to connect people, technology and processes – cracking open data silos and connecting everyone from the factory floor all the way to the executive suite.
However, it also extends the traditional concept of manufacturing into 3 entirely new directions, which reflect just how much of a game-changer this is for local manufacturers.
1. Mass personalisation
“You can have your car in any colour you want, as long as it’s black” were the famous words of automotive pioneer Henry Ford, in rolling out the original Model T.
It’s a principle that has continued for decades, as economies of scale pushed manufacturers to churn out standardised goods that needed to appeal to millions of consumers. Yet today, real-time information flows from consumer to factory floor make it possible to create highly tailored items, at scale, to fit the unique needs of all customers.
To explore an example in the textiles industry, we may go online to order an item of clothing. By using real-time imaging technology, sizes can be measured and styles in addition to colours chosen, which are instantly fed into a manufacturing queue. With integrated, automated workflows, the order can be completed and dispatched to the consumer in a matter of days (perhaps even hours?).
2. Blockchain-enabled value chain integrity
In our example, the customer’s personal details can be stored on distributed ledger technology, ensuring that the information is available for the next order that we make, but remaining highly secure.
In fact, technologies like the blockchain make it possible for manufacturers to form so-called ‘smart contracts’ – to confirm the origin of raw production goods (such as the source of rough diamonds) and integrate with the systems of suppliers and distributors.
At In2IT we consider the blockchain to be the latest major evolution of the Internet (which began with basic web and email, then shifted gear into the eCommerce dot com era, then moved to the point where now most of our transactions and interactions are digital).
In an age of escalating cyber-crime threat, the inherent safety of the blockchain helps manufacturers to keep information private and to ensure the integrity of value chains.
3. Adaptive manufacturing
While 3D printing may still be largely stuck in the realm of garage tinkerers and amateur enthusiasts, there are certain industrial fields where the concept of adaptive manufacturing is already playing a key role – particularly in areas like aerospace and defence.
3D printing technologies will continue maturing and finding greater application within factory settings over the coming years. By hooking them into broader manufacturing execution systems, manufacturers can embrace the benefits of 3D printing and moving towards a true ‘IIoT’ environment.
The changes expected to hit manufacturing over the coming years will be rapid and dramatic. If we draw an analogy to our personal lives, consider how much the automobile has evolved in just the past five to seven years. Now, most new vehicles include digital displays and control elements, integration into the likes of Apple CarPlay and Google Maps.
Henry Ford would barely recognise the modern car, from the humble Model T that he conceived all those decades ago.
Now, imagine these changes happening in the manufacturing and industrial worlds, and we start to see the potential for the IIoT.