Visibility – taking it to the Edge

Main visual : Visibility – taking it to the Edge

If the internet of things is about the things at the edge of the network, how much are the assets in your manufacturing or service delivery process worth to you?

How much is €20 worth?

At a recent seminar, I asked people how much they would pay to know the location of a €20 note that I had hidden in the room. Bidding started at €5 and ended at €17. Clearly no one thought it was worth the effort of walking to the podium to collect winnings of less than €3!

That’s a simple example of calculating value. In the real-world, this is much more complex. One fairly straightforward manufacturing example we came across recently at one of our customers was the challenge of non-locatable equipment in a yard, valued at $25,000 per unit. Clearly, a system that provided visibility of those missing units would be worth a sum at least close to the aggregate asset price?

In fact, it’s also possible to take the idea of value one step further and find examples where you might readily pay more than the value of the asset – maybe even exponentially more. How about a single bolt – which has a value of only cents – needed in a manufacturing process, when “out of stock” means shutting down the entire process, at an opportunity cost of tens of thousands of dollars per hour.

As far as manufacturing and warehousing are concerned, the extraordinary potential and payback of IoT is that it gives you the ability to understand – probably for the first time – where those points of value are actually located. By connecting the equipment, stock, tools, assets, and their associated processes, that reside on the edge, organizations can immediately act on insights that will unlock significant productivity gains and savings.

Making decisions requires visibility

I think we can all accept that there is a large number of assets out there that are valuable, but which are currently unconnected. Maybe some things already have an IP address or an asset tag – but many more do not. So where are these assets right now? Are they in the right place? Do they work? Are they operating within the stated environmental parameters – temperature, humidity, water quality – to do their job correctly? By getting a better grip on this sort of information, just think about the improvements we could make to our processes: better quality output, faster production, and lower costs.

Let’s focus on better quality control as one possible outcome. One of GlobeRanger’s customers makes gas turbines valued in $ millions. The tools and gauges alone used in this factory can easily cost $5,000 each. GlobeRanger enables the tracking of these tools to individual team members, but also to ensure they are correctly calibrated. The system knows how long a tool can be used without recalibration and alerts the relevant team member when that becomes necessary, therefore ensuring that quality control is properly maintained, as well as preventing expensive tools from disappearing without trace.

Experts are now predicting that more than 50% of decisions in the Internet of Things are very soon going to be made at the network edge, not in the cloud. In GlobeRanger’s view, until we have visibility of what is going on at the edge, we can’t even begin to make those decisions – which involve properly assessing where the real bottlenecks are, and identifying how much we could save or improve. Visibility is the starting point for analysis and insight, leading to decisions. That’s why the edge is so important.

The criticality of this visibility is discussed by a recent academic paper acatech STUDY – Industrie 4.0 Maturity Index – Managing the Digital Transformation of Companies that sets out a maturity of adoption model for Industry 4.0 (see diagram 1). If we take it as given that all manufacturing organizations have stages 1 and 2 (computers and connectivity) in place, then everything onwards rests on visibility. GlobeRanger is enabling organizations in steps 3 (visibility – what is happening?) and 4 (transparency – why is it happening?) and providing the platform for stages 5 (predictive capability – what will happen?) and 6 (adaptability – how can we react autonomously?).

Diagram 1: Maturity of adoption model for industry 4.0

To see how visibility underpins steps 5 and 6 in this model, let’s look at an example from materials science specialist Meggitt, a Fujitsu customer. We are working together to improve the visibility of carbon fiber aircraft components in Meggitt’s manufacturing process. When carbon fiber is not being used, it must be stored at a defined temperature. In manufacturing, a roll of the material is taken out of cold storage, worked on and then returned. Meggitt describes this as “out-of-fridge time”. This is a critical parameter, since it affects the qualities of the carbon fiber, notably the length of “cooking” or heat treatment to achieve the required properties for the application in hand. By putting in place a process to provide visibility of the out-of-fridge time, GlobeRanger has given Meggitt the ability to predict (step 5) and adapt (step 6) the necessary modifications to the heat treatment required, based on the precise out-of-fridge time of the carbon fiber roll being used at that moment. This results in better yields of an extremely expensive material, better quality control of the end product and greater productivity within the total process.

Warehousing – no longer lost in space

Visibility at the edge can also pay handsome dividends in the warehouse. GlobeRanger has developed a door-in-to-door-out warehouse process which we call the foundation manufacturing tracking service (see diagram 2). The potential value of using this process is multi-layered, from reduced write offs on lost inventory, reduced need for – and therefore frequency of – warehouse stock checks, reduced requirement for warehouse space, reduced bottlenecks in the production line leading to improved productivity, and better ability to track suppliers’ performance.

Diagram 2 – the GlobeRanger foundation manufacturing tracking service

We are also working with US manufacturer Dairy Brand to provide consumers with quality dairy products. It is a good example of how GlobeRanger is delivering value in a perishable goods environment. We fitted advanced readers on warehouse fork lifts and tagged pallets, and use GlobeRanger to integrate this new level of warehouse floor visibility to the back end. This means Dairy Brand can now allocate the correct space to each pallet, based on its environmental requirements, track precisely how long any given pallet load has been at any location, and pick items from the warehouse with perfect precision based on remaining shelf life.

Watch the Real Time Tracking in Manufacturing video session.

Choosing your IoT project

At GlobeRanger we have been creating visibility at the edge for over 18 years, and bring specific domain knowledge in manufacturing, warehousing, aviation and first responders, which means we are able to pursue rapid deployment. We aim for a completed proof of concept within 12 weeks and challenge ourselves to prove value to the customer in that timeframe. We accelerate that value by designing an implementation approach which yields value quickly while providing a platform for more complex integration into business processes and systems at a later date. This is because it is the front end of the POC – building visibility – that opens up the possibility of analysis and insight that gives you the confidence that value can be achieved.

If you are thinking about where to start with IoT, our view is that finding the correct value proposition for IoT in manufacturing all comes down to finding your one thing that you need to solve. GlobeRanger can help you gain visibility of what is really going on at the edge and help you make informed business decisions.

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