Four Ways Connectivity is Transforming Manufacturing
Digital transformation relies on connectivity in order to access data, improve processes, and empower people.
Connectivity is at the core of today’s digital transformation initiatives in manufacturing – affecting processes, productivity, and people. The right technology can lead to more empowered decisions, cross-functional collaboration, better talent attraction and retention, and improved workplace safety and employee satisfaction.
However, these productivity, process, and people improvements are not easy to carry out – especially across a network of individual manufacturing sites, each with its own distinct site leadership, IT infrastructure, and culture.
Automating today’s factory takes fast, scalable, reliable, and secure connectivity. Use of advanced technologies such as dedicated fiber, 5G or Wi-Fi, can maximize flexibility in connecting disparate systems in the factory. Robust connectivity can take what is being processed via artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) to create fast, better, and more accurate insights.
The connected factory requires big data to help manufacturers make intelligent decisions about how to respond to market changes. Using technologies like Internet of Things (IoT), autonomous-guided vehicles, robots, or video intelligence, manufacturers should consider the amount of data that will be generated. This data can help power predictive analytics, asset tracking, increased responsiveness, and supply chain visibility
The connected factory requires big data to help manufacturers make intelligent decisions about how to respond to market changes.
As manufacturers embark on their digital transformation journey, they need to assess how the transformation will look for their organization and what goals they want to achieve. Understanding their current manufacturing infrastructure and assessing where improvements can be made to meet the identified goals will help with creating a roadmap.
Here are four exciting ways that manufacturers can take advantage of today’s Manufacturing 4.0 technologies and improve manufacturing operations:
Rise of the connected worker
Connected devices have created smarter experiences in our day-to-day lives. This connectivity has even transformed how we work. Connected workers are integrated into their environment and connected to other workers. They’re empowered with real-time information and supported by working systems.
In factories and on the plant floor, connected workers are performing their jobs with the help of digital technologies and devices – including smartphones, laptops, tablets, and smart glasses. Together, the connectivity and the data produced are helping improve employee safety and unlocking new efficiencies.
For example, IoT, AI, AR/VR, and smart devices are empowering employees with information about equipment, processes, and work instructions. Data analytics helps drive more informed decisions and delivers actionable, real-time insights for manufacturers. This helps businesses respond quickly to emerging market trends and gain a competitive edge.
5G can help improve the employee experience. On a production line, employees using tablet computers could send and receive information about equipment status or material supply. Smartphones could be used to scan specific components of a vehicle for accuracy.
Industrial IoT solutions in manufacturing
Industrial IoT (IIoT) is becoming more widespread and has enabled manufacturers to make better informed, strategic decisions using real-time data back to achieve a diverse range of goals, including cost reduction, enhanced efficiency, improved safety, and product innovation.
By moving away from manual processes and calculations towards machine learning, AI-based analytics can enhance IIoT capabilities such as video intelligence. IIoT enables more data to be collected to perfect manufacturing production, find areas of improvement, and possibly predict and offset supply chain challenges.
IIoT can enable better shipment tracking via GPS to let all participants know where the contents are at any time. It can also empower better planning and accountability, helping to close gaps that may otherwise be out of the participant’s control.
IIoT enables more data to be collected to perfect manufacturing production, find areas of improvement, and possibly predict and offset supply chain challenges.
Video intelligence can be used to check critical elements of production and help improve asset protection and risk mitigation. Maintaining visibility and capturing insights within high-risk areas like conveyor belt speed, production accuracy, temperature, or vibration monitoring of older equipment helps manufacturers gain operational efficiencies and better manage their facilities for cost savings.
IIoT is being used to make the manufacturing floor safer and more efficient, which helps increase employee productivity and satisfaction. From ensuring employees maintain the proper distance from equipment to alerting them of required safety equipment, video intelligence helps reduce safety risks with better situational awareness for faster response times to incidents.
Asset tracking and monitoring
Indoor and outdoor IoT tracking supports improved inventory management, while IoT-based vehicle telematics supply enhanced governance of vehicle condition. IoT also supports sustainability initiatives like reducing energy consumption, emissions, and waste, and improving resource efficiency.
Manufacturers are adopting IoT-powered devices to check production facilities and equipment. From conveyors to forklifts, IoT helps monitor and control any mix of equipment. By capturing and analyzing data and diagnostic information, manufacturers can increase the operating efficiency of their business. IoT technology can give manufacturers visibility into where their assets are, how they’re performing, and how well they’re being used. The data generated can be analyzed to generate real-time, actionable insights for manufacturers.
IoT is also beneficial for tracking inventory and fulfilling orders. IoT for warehouse management lets manufacturers monitor the stock availability and their location in the warehouse. The data collected from products and devices helps companies improve warehouse operations and manage their inventories based on market demand.
Autonomous-guided vehicles (AGVs) are examples of how manufacturers are enhancing production in manufacturing. AGVs are a part of many lights-out factory environment strategies.
AGVs that move through a factory floor, yard, or warehouse can generate massive amounts of data to process instructions and make smart decisions to navigate safely. With such heavy data consumption, Wi-Fi alone may not be able to support fast and reliable connections. 5G in the factory can fulfill the volume gap. The lower latency of 5G helps automated robotics and machinery make faster and more reliable decisions.
AGVs can generate massive amounts of data to process instructions and make smart decisions to navigate safely.
Multi-access Edge Computing (MEC), a form of private 5G, provides the foundation for data to flow from the edge of the network where it’s more easily accessible within the factory for prioritized processes. Coupled with macro 5G, it can handle massive volumes of data from sensors, endpoints, and other sources to allow AGVs to avoid collisions, mistakes, and carry out their assignments.
As manufacturers continue to digitally transform to achieve efficiencies and gain a competitive advantage, they must find a balance between having a secure network in place and scaling their digital capabilities.
These four areas of connectivity are playing a significant role in modernizing manufacturing ecosystems. Creating a factory of the future – one that incorporates automation and other technologies – is worth it. M
About the authors:
Andrea (Ande) Hazard is Vice President, Manufacturing & Transportation Solutions for AT&T Global Business where she leads a team of sales professionals, technical architects and engineers delivering AT&T products, services and global solutions to enterprise clients. Her organization focuses on the manufacturing, transportation, logistics and consumer packaged goods industries, ensuring an integrated, enterprise-wide customer experience for their clients.