One of the most interesting presentations at the IoT for Manufacturing workshop at Georgia Tech was from Polytron, a systems integrator specializing in manufacturing. While the focus of the presentation was the resurgence of RFID on the shop floor, there were several other takeaways shared by the company concerning planning IoT deployments for clients. And, it offers hope for those who are alarmed by the IoT “pilot purgatory” trend pervasive throughout industry.
Polytron’s Richard W. Phillips said that one of the first steps for the systems integrator when brought into an IoT engagement involves asking clients to identify business drivers. When it comes to IoT pilots, the company wants to identify ROI opportunities.
Fortunately, there are lots of low-hanging fruit – typically Polytron and the client might discuss 10 or 20 potential projects, which could be anything from setting up alerts to going paperless for some process on the plant floor. The team will then get to work on one pilot before considering scaling or expanding to other areas.
Phillips said, “Ideally, we minimize the number of technologies without giving up functionality,” and consider a 10-year timeframe for the implementation. He added that when it comes to new projects, it’s not just a matter of figuring out the best technology. “We try to understand impact of new technologies on people and processes,” he said. “Will workers be motivated?”
Another Polytron employee described a case study involving a beverage manufacturer seeking to launch a new product line. Even something that sounds simple (the launch of a new health drink made with vegetable juice) can get very complex from an IoT manufacturing perspective. Factors that have to be considered include:
Tracking ingredients with different expiry dates
Batching and packaging
Data collection for FDA compliance.
Polytron said the solution that the client ended up using involved location and data tracking using RFID tags on palettes of vegetables moving around the plant, along with RFID labels on cases of bottles leaving the facility.
Alain Louchez, who leads the Center for the Development of the Application of Internet of Things Technologies (CDAIT) at Georgia Tech, started his presentation at this year’s IoT for Manufacturing workshop at Georgia Tech with some sobering numbers that should be familiar to anyone who has attempted industrial IoT: Most projects fail.
Citing reports from PWC, McKinsey,and others, the expert consensus finds that some 60%-70% of firms have trouble getting out of “Pilot Purgatory.” That can be a strong incentive to just throw up your hands and not push further, either because it’s assumed more failure will result or the team that pushed for the use of resources may even be punished … and who wants to be in that seat again?
As for the causes of the failures, there are many potential issues, some of them unique to individual businesses. Being too ambitious can be a problem. “Some companies have failed with their digitization projects, because they tried to do too much,” Louchez says.
That’s not only on an individual project basis; as one audience member noted, “We have 7 or 8 pilots, and it gets to be a bit unwieldy … there are a lot of fiefdoms.” Another advised to “think big but start small” when it comes to IoT pilots.
Someone call OSHA, because we have a lot of visible violations in this video clip smuggled out from a factory, which looks like it’s manufacturing components for electrical power plants. No one is wearing helmets, fire suppression systems are not visible, and … Oh, never mind, it’s from 1904.
This clip was taken decades before the United States (and most other industrialized nations of the era) had modernized their industrial safety laws. The toll on workers was severe — just prior to the creation of OSHA in the early 1970s, an estimated 14,000 workers were killed on the job in the United States. By 2009, the number of deaths had dropped to 4,340 even while the number of workers has doubled.
The other thing that stood out about this clip are the number of people wearing semi-formal attire, including jackets, ties, white button-down shirts, bowlers, and leather shoes. It was clearly a different time.
On the other hand, maybe the next AI giant may come from an unexpected place, much like Amazon (1990s online book merchant) has emerged to become one of the leading online retailers, cloud service providers, and streaming content, not to mention grocery, logistics, and other services.