Hirotec, an auto supplier that makes door handles and other enclosures for companies including General Motors and Mazda, is in the middle of a big project to organize existing information it has collected from its connected plant machinery. Its goal is to reduce downtime by implementing a predictive maintenance program based on data generated by the many machines in its factories.
The $1.6 billion business has a number of Computerized Numerical Control (CNC) machines. These machines were collecting data but it wasn’t in a centralized place. So the company fed data from eight of its CNC machines (used for cutting and milling jobs) into a gateway running analytics programs to help anticipate how long it would take to schedule and run different jobs.
The 6-week project generated almost immediate results says Justin Hester, research and development project manager at Hirotec. Now the company is embarking on a series of 6-week sprints to connect its entire manufacturing operation.
Hester’s most interesting insight is that technical challenges aren’t the biggest issues facing the deployment of “smart manufacturing.”
The biggest challenge is cultural.
“We’re not waiting on technology anymore in industrial IoT,” Hester says. “What we’re instead waiting on is people. The business process. The soft side of things.”
Hester’s (and Hirotec’s) big insight from its efforts to use sensor data to make better business decisions was that it will change the organization chart for a company. Hester says that 10 years from now every manufacturing company will look different than it does today.
The biggest organizational change will be that engineering and IT will no longer be separate. The physical challenges of making a product (the engineering side) will be so intertwined with software that decides how that process happens, that companies will have to pull in both IT and engineering at the beginning of any project or new product line.
Both will be involved in deciding on suppliers and figuring out solutions. Governing this will be an executive that can bring the two sides together and operations managers that can understand both IT and engineering.
This change isn’t just happening at Hirotec. When GE decided to take on the internet of things it created a separate digital group and had managers at different business units report to both their business unit head and a digital head. That ensured that the business unit and IT were all moving forward together.
“[Industrial IoT] is a big move, like email,” Hester says. “Before email people faxed papers and sent letters. But email completely changed the way we do business. Then BlackBerry made it real time and we’re still dealing with that shift.”