Many firms might be benefiting from the internet of things (IoT) in the connected factory, but a shortage of in-house expertise, and interoperability of systems and data are still the two major hindrances to manufacturing modernization.
One of the side-effects of the disruptions created by the Covid-19 pandemic is the change in operational processes which would otherwise have relied on staff being on site all the time. We’ve heard of many instances of organizations accelerating their long overdue modernization and digitization efforts across the manufacturing industry, especially with the evolution of advanced network connectivity and connected assets and technologies.
With connected technologies, firms are looking for the ability to be flexible and resilient, and to innovate. To understand the extent to which manufacturing has embraced the IoT, or industrial IoT (IIoT), Analog Devices commissioned a survey of 312 manufacturing, operations, and connectivity executives around the world, and conducted on its behalf by Forrester Consulting.
Findings from the research include the following highlights:
- Connected firms believe that improving network reliability (including adding 5G networks) will create significant opportunity: 68% of high maturity firms say this will enable them to make better use of existing cloud infrastructure and 66% believe their industrial data and IP will be more secure. Conversely, only 21% of low maturity firms believe that improving network reliability will help improve security. However, all respondents agree that improving network reliability will improve efficiency by freeing up employees who are constantly resolving downtime issues.
- Low maturity firms struggle with security risk: 54% say that their lack of sophisticated cybersecurity strategy puts their business, customer, and employee safety at risk.
- The human element continues to pose challenges: Almost half (47%) of low maturity firms say they lack the expertise to understand which connectivity technologies to invest in, indicating a skills gap. Even high maturity firms report that it is not easy for them to access the insights they need to make labor planning and safety decisions.
- Real-time monitoring of equipment and productivity demonstrates an acute awareness of the high cost of unscheduled downtime: High (5%) and medium (17%) maturity firms reported much lower occurrence of unscheduled downtime of their industrial technology or equipment each week than low maturity companies (53%). These interruptions, lead to higher cost of holding inventory and labor per unit, loss of production and customer confidence and decreased work capacity.
“This past year was a true catalyst for digital transformation and many businesses needed to navigate and adopt connectivity strategies that helped them to become more agile and lay the groundwork for future innovation,” said Martin Cotter, SVP industrial, consumer & multi-markets at Analog Devices. “We see significant opportunity in the adoption of connectivity solutions, including 5G, to help organizations get data more quickly, enabling end applications.”
In asset-intensive industries such as manufacturing, the industrial internet of things (IIoT) provides a connection between physical objects and digital systems elsewhere in the business. This connection delivers remote monitoring and visibility, and, when combined with technologies such as machine learning, it can unlock more advanced capabilities, such as predictive maintenance or data-driven, as-a-service business models. In surveying industrial connectivity leaders, the study found that mature companies are farther ahead than their less mature counterparts, with 85% of high maturity firms reporting that IIoT technologies currently support much of the factory floor — compared to 66% of medium maturity firms and 17% of low maturity firms.
IIoT is the top technology investment priority for low maturity firms, implying that they are on a similar but slower journey. As manufacturers seek to connect more assets, it is clear they expect to do so over a hybrid wired/wireless network. Investing in both wired (e.g., industrial ethernet) and wireless (e.g., 5G) connectivity is a critical priority for most medium and high maturity companies.
The top two technology investment priorities for high maturity industrial leaders are:
- leveraging insights from connected assets for cloud-based analytics (77%) and
- real-time monitoring of equipment and productivity (76%).
The majority of high maturity firms also seek to invest more in augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), as well as artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML). Forrester predicts that Covid-era acceleration of key emerging technologies (like AR) will become sustained adaptive innovation in 2021 and beyond.
Legacy systems unable to perform
Another finding is that legacy systems and networks fail to support a modern digital business. The reality is that some older equipment is not capable of providing diagnostic data with the resolution, speed, and open standards that more modern systems expect. In fact, 53% of low maturity firms report that their legacy equipment is unable to communicate with other assets at all. As manufacturers seek to improve their automation and remote monitoring capabilities, doing so effectively is challenging due to wireless networking limitations. Fortynine percent of low maturity firms and 28% of medium maturity firms report that wireless automation and remote monitoring is challenging due to dead spots and/or insufficient bandwidth.
Companies at all maturity levels are seeking to improve network reliability (in part by implementing 5G networks) to make better use of their existing cloud infrastructures. Additionally, most high maturity (66%) and medium maturity (54%) firms look forward to the security benefits of network reliability improvements.
Low latency a key benefit of 5G in manufacturing
The study notes low latency being one truly transformational aspect of 5G connectivity in particular that opens up a world of use cases that existing paradigms — including cloud computing — cannot fully address on their own. For example, connectivity and latency requirements make it impossible to reliably move every workload off the factory floor and into the cloud. For security leaders, that means one of the hardest environments for visibility and protection will now be as connected as the rest of the enterprise.
For business leaders, this means opening the door to both additional IIoT use cases and advanced insights to fuel continued innovation. In fact, 99% of high maturity leaders agree (with 50% of them strongly agreeing) that investing in industrial connectivity is crucial to unearthing insights that are necessary to informing their long-term competitive strategies.
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