In Digital Manufacturing

As industry goes digital, waves of collective recognition and learning regularly arise. Check the headlines from a few years ago and think back to what was top of mind: Data lakes. Big data. Hadoop. The search for the ultimate Industrial Internet of Things platform. These were the foundational elements for going digital, and horizontal technologies were the predominant topic at the time.

A year or so passes, the concept is internalized, and then everyone moves on to the next challenge.

This year, the topic is analytics. Companies have come to appreciate that it’s one thing to collect data, another to use it effectively. Conferences and literature are appropriately focused on the next step in transformation: how do you make your data useful?

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A recent survey by LNS Research highlights what’s currently on manufacturers’ minds, and the responses are fascinating. Some sort of adoption is presumed – 80% of large manufacturers are implementing or about to implement IoT technologies. When asked about challenges, the responses are tactical. How do you get funding for IIoT? (32% cited this as a challenge) How do you build a business case? (30%) Does the company understand IIoT and what it’s for? (26%).

Companies will answer these questions quickly – the value is too compelling not to.

Lurking within LNS’ survey data is the next challenge: scale. This is a need that few currently dwell on and a discipline that will separate strong digital enterprises from the dilettantes. Only five percent of LNS respondents identified scale as a principal concern in IIoT deployment. In 2017, I believe that number will go way up.

Scale is the last mile of the marathon, the part of the race where if you haven’t prepared well, you crumple and the whole thing falls apart. You can succeed on a machine or even a line, but if you designed for scale from the outset, you will fail to diffuse that technology fast, cheaply, and effectively across the enterprise. And that’s where the big gains will be: enterprise and supply chain insight.

Manufacturers intuitively think scale: consider the discipline that goes into moving from launch to full production, or in fields such as life science, from bench to scale. The same is true for digital. And as is always true, scale is achieved not by brute force at the moment of truth, but by design long before.

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