What Does IIoT Mean for Small Manufacturers?

By Polaris MEP Partner Jason Bittner, Triple Helix

The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is talked about as more of a reality today than ever before. Smart factories built by Ericsson, Schneider Electric, and other technology providers have provided concrete examples of how IIoT can drive further improvements in manufacturing.

The question for manufacturers looking to invest thousands rather than millions in technology is how can they implement IIoT into their operations in a meaningful way? The answer is not as complicated as one might think. Your data (or lack thereof) can help you identify your biggest opportunities.

IIoT is All About Connections

When you look at the trends in manufacturing technology, the vast majority of it relates to connectivity. In the next phase of manufacturing, often called Industry 4.0, machinery, processes, employees and customers are all connected with and by data. Not just any data, however, but relevant, real-time data that increases efficiency, improves quality or enhances internal and external relationships.

A common example of IIoT is the use of connected sensors that send a continuous stream of data about a piece of equipment. At the most basic level this data can be used to monitor equipment in real-time and respond to problems as soon as an anomaly is detected. Add another layer of technology to this process and you can predict when maintenance is needed and avoid unplanned downtime altogether.

Data is not all about equipment, however. With data sharing across different areas of your operations, and even with customers, you can create a collaborative environment where your people can work at extremely high efficiency levels.

Triple Helix helped Koster Keunen leverage its ERP data to create a sales portal that provides sales forecasts for each customer showing, order frequency and volume over a rolling 12-month period. While the forecasts can be used at the individual customer level to identify problems or opportunities, the portal includes a notifications report that shows all customers whose recent orders do not match the forecast amount, thus saving the team hundreds of hours that it would otherwise take to find the same information manually.

The Opportunities in Your Data

The opportunities are endless, but your business data can help identify which ones have the greatest potential impact for your company. Whether you are just considering leveraging digital tools in your manufacturing operation or your company began the transition years ago, Triple Helix’s Manufacturing Digital Assessment can help evaluate your best opportunities for IIoT efforts in your business.

Triple Helix has worked with manufacturers of all sizes over the years and have developed our assessment tool to help you assess opportunities in Information Management, Data Visibility, Data-Driven Processes, and Information Security. Contact us if you would like to schedule a risk-free consultation to see if Triple Helix can help your company better organize, access, and analyze your data.

By the time a product is fully designed, about 75 percent of the manufacturing costs are locked in. This is by virtue not only of the functionality of the product, but also the choice of materials and the manufacturing process. Less expensive options may have already been rendered impractical as a result of design choices.

This implies that product design has two purposes. One, obviously, is to create a useful product, with its own function, form, look and feel – the traditional definition of product design. The second purpose is to produce that product at the lowest possible cost – certainly at a cost the market will bear, and better yet, lower.

Design for manufacturing, sometimes called design for manufacturability, is about the second of those purposes. Done correctly, it is performed in parallel with – and as part of – the traditional product design. This means that from the very beginning of the process, manufacturing and cost considerations are equally as important as functionality, with the caveat that in the end, if the cost is reasonable but the product isn’t useful, it won’t meet with success in the market.

The process begins with a challenge statement – a response to the question, “What market need are we trying to meet?” It’s very important that this statement not be a solution statement. For example, if the challenge is that “older people need bicycles that are easier to pedal,” that is the challenge statement –  not “we need to produce an electric bicycle,” because electric bicycles are only one of many possible solutions to the challenge. There may be other, better solutions that are not considered by jumping immediately to electric bicycles.

The next step is to assemble a cross-functional design team comprised of traditional designers and folks with expertise in marketing, sales, finance, purchasing and manufacturing. The old method of designing a product and throwing it over the wall to the other functions in succession is over, because that process will, in the end, take longer to get to the market and very likely cost more than necessary. The idea now is to make sure all the important questions and considerations are discussed at the beginning, before the actual designing takes place.

After agreeing on a challenge statement, the team needs to assess and list the features and functionality of the product to the customer. After that, it’s a push-and-pull, back-and-forth process for the team to optimize features, functionality and cost while keeping the targeted price point and volumes in mind. It can be a messy, iterative process, but there are several tools and methods that bring order to the process.

Design for manufacturing may seem slow, especially when the urgency to get a product into the market seems most important. But it’s actually faster and less costly than designing a product in isolation, only to find out that the manufacturing cost is higher than it should be – or worse yet, that the product can’t be made at a price acceptable to the market.


Interested in talking about what the Industrial Internet of Things means for your business? To schedule a call with Jason Bittner, of Polaris MEP Partner Triple Helix, contact Mary Johnson at Polaris MEP, maryjohnson@polarismep.org.

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