The Industrial Internet of Things: A boon for small and medium-sized manufacturers- Part 2

By Sheetal Kumbhar

Nothing new, but certainly still worthy of emphasis: smaller manufacturers represent an essential and dynamic component of the U.S. manufacturing industry. The Part 1 of the article yesterday consisted of smart manufacturing, digital manufacturing, digital transformation etc., the continuation of the article lies below.

Digital transformation still in early stages among SMMs

Very tellingly, a March 2017 White Paper from the World Economic Forum on Technology and Innovation for the Future of Production: Accelerating Value Creation quotes a recent study of 4,500 German SMEs, which “found that fewer than 20% had heard of Industry 4.0, much less taken steps to implement it.”, says Mary Bunzel and Alain Louchez.

It is quite a finding when we recall that the very concept of Industry 4.0 was born in Germany! The World Economic Forum White Paper ominously adds “this highlights the challenge many countries will face in assisting their small and medium-sized producers to reap the value of technologies.”

A 2015 White House press release relays the same kind of observation: “because of the unique barriers they face, small manufacturers often lag their larger peers in adopting critical new technologies. For example, a recent survey found that fewer than 60% of small manufacturers were experimenting in any way with 3-D printing, a potentially transformative technology that is especially beneficial for small companies due to its flexibility. In contrast, over 75% of large firms were using the technology.”

Yet, SMEs have a lot to gain from exploiting IIoT technologies to generate cost-cutting efficiencies and new revenue streams.

SMMs tend to be highly specialised, offering skills larger manufacturers can’t afford to maintain. Deep domain expertise is key to the development of analytic algorithms necessary for compute at the edge, digital twin specifications and artificial intelligence – just a few elements of Industrial Internet of Things technologies.

This domain expertise in combination with natural agility that comes from more nimble corporate structures creates fertile incubation for truly disruptive market opportunities through leverage of IoT-based tools.

For instance, a journeyman boilermaker, having spent 30 years maintaining the steam supply to production facilities at a food processing plant made the decision to retire. But like so many deeply experienced professionals, he sought to share his extensive knowledge on the science of hydraulics and to stay involved in industry best practices. Teaming with a supply partner he had worked with in the past, he worked with data scientists at the partner firm to incorporate operational models for steam feeds, hydraulics and boiler conditions into mathematical algorithms the firm was building into their IoT Platform for Industry.

Using the knowledge of variable conditions affecting steam performance gained over 30 years, he was able to help the partner develop condition models of performance that became part of an analytic platform available through subscription to any company needing the expertise.

In June 2017, MForesight: The Alliance for Manufacturing Foresight (a national consortium established in 2015 to provide coordinated private‐sector input on national advanced manufacturing technology research and development priorities) published a report on Ensuring American Manufacturing Leadership Through Next-Generation Supply Chains. They argue that for US […]

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Posted on: October 12, 2017

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