TRAVERSE CITY, MI – Using the Internet to improve factory operations was the focus of a Management Briefing Seminars session on Monday at the Center for Automotive Research conference here.
It’s referred to as “the Industrial Internet of Things,” which aims to improve productivity and quality by connecting the “factory floor with the top floor,” as one speaker describes the effort.
The initiative involves gathering information from the Internet cloud, where a multitude of data is stored; applying analytics; and using sensors on machines to check things such as wear and detect “crashes” that can cause line shutdowns and other malfunctions.
“We are using less than 1% of the information available on the plant floor,” says Stu Johnson, director-product marketing for Plex Systems. “You can’t manage what you can’t measure.”
Toyota Motor North America’s Trever White says his group began focusing on person-to-person and machine-to-machine communication in 2013 to learn how the IIoT could improve machine maintenance, quality and logistics.
“It was time to get out from behind our computers and look at what’s going on on the plant floor,” says White, divisional information officer-manufacturing and engineering business systems.
By using electronic visualization to observe how the line is running, Toyota can eliminate paperwork and develop quality and warranty data, he says.
A chief target of Toyota’s IIoT program is improved logistics. “Our goal is to have end-to-end information from arrival of deliveries from our suppliers to our docks and to the assembly line.”
Juergen Sturm, chief information officer for German supplier ZF, says, “We are only at the beginning” of harnessing technology to improve plant operations.
“It used to be we would report something one day and act on it the next day. Now we can do the same thing in real time.”
Why is that important? “Because today short time to market” is imperative, pushed by competitive global strategies, he says.
Paul Boris, head of manufacturing at General Electric Digital, also cites speed as a major reason manufacturers are embracing advanced information technology.
GE Digital is exploring LED lighting in its factories that can be programmed to track operations. “In cities, LED lighting can do a lot of things, even track gunshots,” he says. “This technology is just waiting to be tapped.”
Toyota has video cameras that can inspect operations and send information to a central system before the car leaves the assembly line, White says.
During a Q&A session, the IIoT panel also is asked how it is addressing cybersecurity. “The risk is monstrous,” Boris says, although underscoring GE has protections in place.