I had the pleasure of attending the Manufacturing Leadership Council’s tour and roundtable discussion  at Merck & Co., Inc.’s Maurice R. Hilleman Center for Vaccine Manufacturing in Durham, NC the last week in November. As the CEO of an Industry 4.0 software provider, I found the experience invaluable in keeping a pulse on the challenges faced by manufacturers today.

My main takeaway from the tour visit was learning more about the prevailing issues facing the manufacturing industry on what to do with big data and Industrial IoT (IIoT) projects. The two most common questions I heard during the roundtable discussion with industry veterans and executives were:

  1. “We don’t know where to start with our Industry 4.0 projects,” and
  2. “We already collect lots of data, but don’t know what to do with it.”

These two sentiments were reiterated by one manufacturer after another, prompting me to write this blog post and prescribe a pain-free guide for manufacturers to successfully invest in IIoT.

Why do so many Industry 4.0 projects fail?

First and foremost, many manufacturers who say they don’t know where to start with Industry 4.0 do not have a clear use case or ROI in mind when deciding on the scope of their investment. Many IIoT undertakings start with an individual within the organization focusing on the capabilities of IoT instead of how IoT can help them solve business and production constraints.

At the same time, it is common to hear from manufacturers who say they have lots of data but don’t know what to do with it. Many of these manufacturers have already invested in a data acquisition or analytics software. But most solutions on the market simply aggregate machine data and leave their customers to sift through mountains of datasets or spend hours compiling Excel spreadsheets that fail to provide clear solutions to production problems. 

So what is the solution?

The answer to both complaints is actually very simple, and you can take a page from the CIA: follow the money. First identify the biggest constraint impacting your bottom line today. It can be a few different things in a given factory such as, cost of quality, material consumption, unplanned downtime, long lead times. In each of these cases you can easily find a dollar amount of either direct costs or opportunity costs that are impacting your business. By starting with the economic impact, it’s easy to identify who the real stakeholder of the issue is, and you can most likely draw a direct line between the economic impact on operations and friction in the process and between the people involved.

By following the money, you will achieve the most important thing, an ROI potential. By conducting this exercise you also identify an executive with a direct incentive to impact the business and stakeholders in the organization who are experiencing operation friction (and are therefore open to solutions that remove that friction.) By drawing that direct line you can also have a much clearer understanding of the data needed to understand the issue and a better sense of what to do with that data.

Once you’ve identified your pathfinder mission with this exercise, you will face another key challenge: What Industry 4.0 solution should you develop internally vs. what should you buy from vendors? The answer is to evaluate IIoT solutions and identify the vendor that not only provides you with the correct data and actionable insights that enable you to meet your ROI goals, but also partners with your organization and provides the expertise to guide you into digital manufacturing and the fourth industrial revolution.