Finding Common Ground in the Industrial Internet

“IT people and manufacturing people are natural enemies in the wild,” shared Mike Harmon at last week’s M2M Evolution conference during a Production & Industrial Internet session.   

Mike wears a Dell badge but came up through the manufacturing / operational technology world and now leads an organization that can help Dell’s customers design M2M solutions.

Two men collaborating on an electronic whiteboardThe differing perspectives between IT and manufacturing have not been a concern historically. IT stayed in their world of trouble tickets and roadmaps, and manufacturing stayed on the front lines of battling the daily fires to keep production flowing. Today, the benefits from new intelligence on the factory floor (such as higher quality, greater efficiency and lower costs) are becoming clearer. To get to this goodness, however, manufacturing and IT will need to work together.

The manufacturing people understand the data and bring some initial ‘gut feel’ as to what streams are most critical to analyze. Cycle-by-cycle, the machines on the factory floor have sensors sending out data on temperature, pressure, torque, and more. The information systems supporting production supply a flow of data on orders, inventory, quality and shipping status. But this data has, as Mike says, a “sad and pathetic life.” Once created, most manufacturing data goes utterly unused. Beyond understanding the data, manufacturing folks know the value of improving quality, efficiency and cost – they’re graded on it every day – and can supply the urgency and drive to get projects approved.

IT people can help transform the raw data into something quite useful. They can use local computing resources to collect the sensor data and run field analytics to deliver near real time alerts on key metrics such as quality or production goals.  This is an innovation hot spot, since the value from catching issues early is high. For larger projects, such as predictive analytics or communication between machines on different standards, IT people can bring out the big iron and pull together solutions combining the cloud, software and networking. Cloud technologies are a solution to the lack of standardization in operational technology, as it is technically much easier to have devices talk through the cloud than it is to have them talk directly to each other.

In the end, the real barriers to the Industrial Internet are not the technologies but rather the lines on an org chart. Getting natural enemies to collaborate will take a bit of ingenuity, genuine buy-in around a shared vision, and perhaps some organizational restructuring. 

I also recommend doughnuts. Both IT and manufacturing people seem to over-index on a love of doughnuts.

About the Author: Kirsten Billhardt