Manufacturing Vs. IT: Mind The Gap

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Industrial Things

If your IT organization isn’t working to integrate manufacturing with the rest of your enterprise infrastructure, you’re hurting the bottom line. Here’s how companies such as fashion firm Zara, food processor Sugar Creek Packing Co., and General Electric are bridging the gap between IT and the factory floor, with positive results.

If businesses have been automating factories since the Carter administration, why is manufacturing the last acceptable data silo in so many companies? And when will that change?

Until recently, absorbing the factory floor into the enterprise has been too expensive and complex for all but the biggest companies.

Assuming the hardware (primarily sensors) and software needed to gather, disseminate and analyze manufacturing data continues to evolve at the current pace — a safe assessment — the mainstreaming of manufacturing integration should occur in less than a decade.

Integration is part of the Industry 4.0 (also referred to as the Internet of Things or the Industrial Internet) movement, in which factory operations are digitized and decentralized. This concept calls for more automation in the form of purpose-built machinery that responds flexibly to changes in its environment and communicates with other machinery to deal with those changes. Most companies, however, will have to work with legacy machinery.

The factory-floor information becomes part of a larger, on-going conversation between all stakeholders, from the C suite to departmental teams. The entire supply chain and, conceivably, government regulators would be involved where relevant as well.

A global business consulting firm predicts that the Big Data component of integration alone will cut product development and assembly costs for manufacturers by 50%.

Rob Enderle, chief executive of information technology consulting firm Enderle Group, in an email exchange with InformationWeek, ticked off several other benefits to integrating manufacturing with the enterprise:

  • Reduced down time
  • Little chance of material shortages
  • Improved quality
  • Happier employees

Industry analyst Gartner’s hype cycle, created to gauge the market readiness of emerging technologies, indicates that the Internet of Things (IoT) will reach the “plateau of productivity,” or maturity, by 2025.

Scott Amyx, founder and CEO of technology consulting firm Amyx+ (as well as an InformationWeek contributor), said that for the last two years, the market has been focused on how to get the data. “Next is, what do we do with it?”

Amyx said IBM seems to have an answer. “It is pushing further than proprietary data to correlate internally produced data with exogenous data,” which comes from external sources. The resulting information is richer, more nuanced and deeper. For manufacturers, it will all start with integration of the whole enterprise.

Refer to the full article on InformationWeek. Published on January 4, 2016. Author Jim Nash.