The IoT - top tips from the manufacturing front line

Stuart Lauchlan Profile picture for user slauchlan April 6, 2016
Learnings from the front line of manufacturing as market leaders offers tips to peers on how to exploit the IoT for maximum benefit.

Jim Heppelmann
Jim Heppelmann

The first two parts of this short series on the Internet of Things and its impact on manufacturing have focused on the theoretical benefits and challenges facing players in the sector. In this concluding article, some concrete examples are put on view as well some advice to others on the same journey.

For Jim Heppelmann, President and Chief Executive Officer at PTC, the IoT revolution is all about the convergence of the physical and the digital and the impact of that on the way companies engineer products:

There’s a feedback loop so that we are doing continuous tests on products as they move into the field. In the conventional model, we engineer something, run a couple of test prototypes, then we ship it and kinda lose sight of what’s going on. Sooner or later problems do develop, but we lost sight of it and we’ve lost six months and in those six months we’ve been developing products with those same defects in them. When we start thinking about a product having a physical and a digital counterpart, almost like an avatar, then you ship the physical product and keep the digital one, and the two are connected.

This is what PTC - and GE - calls the Digital Twin, which Heppelmann explains as:

The idea that you can put a physical product out in the world but keep an accurate digital representation of what it has experienced and what it is doing right now and how well it’s working and not working. This allows engineering and research and sales and marketing departments to interact with this digital understanding of what’s happening with this physical product that’s thousands of miles away. That’s a powerful idea. It’s a lot better than ‘throw it over the wall and hope for the best’., then when the returns come back after six months, you get out the calculator and work out how much warranty work you’re going to have to do.

The IoT will transform the way established businesses work, argues Glenn Baker, Global Director, Enterprise Strategic Manufacturing, Deere and Company. Over 180 years old, Deere has changed its technologies, but maintained its objectives, he says:

When you think about the transformation that has occurred from the first self-scouring plow and horse drawing it to today’s tractors, the end result of those two pieces of equipment is exactly the same - they till the ground to plant the seeds. But over that 180 years, there’s been significant transformation of technologies.

We have continued to focus the business on what provides the greatest value to the customers. We’ve done that by increasing the functionality of the machines. Now we have the Internet of Things and it totally transforms the market and the product as well as the competitive nature of the business.

A key difference is that with the IoT, there are lots of single cogs within a broader system, which opens up an opportunity to provide wider service solutions to the customer:

You begin to expand the scope and look at the IoT as a way to capture other pieces of data. Think about planting corn in the mid-West. Our products will very precisely plant corn. There are other data inputs needed into when you plant and how much you should be planting and how much fertiliser goes with that. Those solution sets are very specific for a given plot of land. You don’t just go out and put your seed in the land. The seed population is different, even on a ten or twenty acre plot, you’ll have different seed populations, different fertilisers and nutrient applications required in each location. So the solution set that we provide, based on the IoT, is much broader.

The digital thread

What’s vital here is managing the digital thread, says Baker, which begins back in the R&D labs:

We have 3d models which is the foundation so we know everything there is about the design. We can validate that we’re building the product to the right design through our digital thread which continues to our manufacturing process. Then we can leverage that digital thread out in our support operation. That’s not easy, being able to connect those dots and manage that digital DNA. Today we come out with our digital birth certificate. It’s like your real birth certificate - when, where, what date, what time - but we want to know a whole lot more, we want to know the digital DNA and capture that through the entire design, manufacture and support function.

Working in collaboration with others is a major learning, says Dave Bartlett, Chief Technology Officer at Current, powered by GE:

To be successful in this new space, it’s all about collaboration and at a level that’s unprecedented for us in GE and I think for everyone in the industry. One way of achieving this is the Industrial Internet Consortium. We built a digital twin for landing gear. Landing gear seems pretty simple, but last time I connected at Salt Lake City, the pilot pushed out, the brake light came out, we had to go back to the gate, which was taken by then, and I missed my connection. The digital twin contains 35 different data points, from hydraulics to braking to locking mechanisms. We can actually predict when one of those mechanisms is going to need service before it breaks. It’s all about prediction, it’s all about no unexpected delays. But we’re not achieving this as an individual company, but through this consortium.

Getting ahead of the curve on a services model is also crucial, advises Dave Yarnold, CEO of service management firm Servicemax:

GE started focusing on service as a core part of their business model back in the Jack Welch era. They looked at product, they looked at service, and they took the razer and blades model and applied it decades ago. Today, more than 80% of GE’s operating profit is being delivered through services. GE has done a great job of pioneering that model and they’ve done that in all their industrial segments. It’s really cool that at Current, the application of that base and moving forward into that Product-as-a-Service delivery model, where Current has its foundation in lighting systems, but is delivering power at a lower cost, a lot of information around traffic patterns which will help their customers to manage their businesses. That’s not what you would think of coming out from a lighting business.

Yarnold also advises proceeding at a steady, but small, pace:

Try to break down a move towards this connected product strategy. Figure out some tangible steps. We’ve developed something with PTC called Connected Field Service, a very simple application of IoT technology. Where there is an out-of-balance or a strange condition at the machine site, we can integrate that with the field service application, trigger the generation of a work order to dispatch a technician to fix a problem before it ever occurs, eliminating unwanted downtime. Bring it down into little pieces. You can’t conquer this with one project.

A grey colored placeholder image