Volume 6 | January 2023
Human-Centered. Solutions Driven.
By Paul Lagroix
Here are some trends that we’ve been seeing within the Manufacturing IT space that we expect to continue building momentum through 2023 and beyond.
Doing More With Less
A consistent theme we’re hearing from many of our manufacturer customers is the expectation of a coming recession in 2023. This has created a level of caution where budget requests are more closely scrutinized and project approvals are requiring higher level acceptance at lower spending thresholds. Yet, the need for digital transformation investment remains high on the priority list. This creates a need to do more with less. How can our customers get more value and return out of their investment? What we’re seeing is that the appetite for bulky, expensive, one-size-fits-all IIoT platforms is decreasing in favor of open source technologies or lower cost software applications with higher degrees of flexibility. They are focusing their investment dollars around integration and customization versus high levels of software spending. In many cases this will allow them to get a more custom fit solution with a lower total investment, even when factoring in ongoing system maintenance and upkeep.
Is Manufacturing IT finally going Agile?
As the saying goes, old habits are hard to break! Within manufacturing, one of those particularly hard to break habits is how plant floor systems get designed and implemented. Traditionally, these projects have been managed using waterfall methodologies with clearly defined end goals and expectations. As Agile methodologies have become popular in many circles, including foremost around software development, we have long heard about manufacturing IT’s desire to adopt more Agile principals for their system implementations. However, true evidence of a more Agile approach has been hard to find. This is understandable. How do you price a project when the end goals of the project are flexible by design? How do you get management buy-in on a project when the deliverables of the project are best defined as TBD? How do they know that their investment will give them the results they want? While Agile projects require more a leap of faith from stakeholders, the flexibility and agility of the project direction will often yield much better results. Over the last couple of years we’ve seen a clear uptick in the number of our customers embracing Agile system implementations, and we’ve seen some the benefits first hand. These customers are able to focus their efforts around getting quick wins. Instead of trying to design the perfect system upfront, they are able to move quickly and target areas of highest need where they can show the greatest return. They can then learn from these early efforts to continuously build on and improve the system as they expand functionality to new areas. Not every organization will be comfortable with this approach, but if your organization can embrace a little uncertainly in the system design and implementation process, maybe Agile is for you too!
Tearing Down the Silos!
There are two common themes we’ll often hear from new customers when engaging with them for the first time around their digital transformation strategy. The following themes are especially common with larger manufacturers that are already on the second or third iteration of their plant floor systems strategy.
The first is the migration from having disparate systems managing each component of their plant floor data collection. They will often have distinct systems (or “silos”) for quality, maintenance, machine monitoring, amongst others, with each requiring a separate login and no way to compare data or run common reports across the various systems without just dumping data to Excel.
The second common theme centers around the premise that lots of data are collected in these, including extensive amounts of historical data, but very little is done with it. These themes, of course, are closely related. If an organization can find a way to get a more universal approach to their plant floor systems, this will make it easier for them to build a more comprehensive data usage strategy. Depending on an organization’s level of appetite for change, there are several approaches they can take to address these common concerns. If they are interested in a rip and replace strategy, there are a number of IIoT platform offerings that can be customized to meet whatever unique needs the organization may have. If the organization would rather build on what they already have in place, there are a number of data aggregation platforms available that allow users to consolidate data from their various systems for reporting and analysis purposes. Some of these platforms exist in an “on prem” architecture, but most of them are starting to leverage the power of cloud computing to do the heavy lifting (including machine learning model development, multivariate regression, etc.) while using edge computing for more mundane tasks.
Any of these approaches will allow the organization to better utilize their plant data and potentially start taking advantage of the latest technologies around AI and Machine Learning.