IoT In Discrete Manufacturers: Create A Live Business Operation Around Connected Products

Kai Goerlich

While discrete manufacturing is used in a diverse range of industries, including automotive, aerospace, defense, construction, industrial machinery, and high tech, all of them face common and tough challenges such as higher resource volatility, more competition, increasing customer expectations, and shorter innovation cycles.

According to a study by a Roland Berger (see chart), product complexity has increased dramatically in the past 15 years. Manufacturers have to cope with two overlapping trends: the variety of products is constantly increasing and has more than doubled in the past 15 years, and, in parallel, product lifecycles have gotten about 25% shorter. These factors are putting an increasing pressure on margins, on supply and procurement systems, and on overall business models. According to Roland Berger, managing this complexity could reduce costs by roughly 3% – and certainly digitization can help improve this margin.

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The threats and potentials of digitization

Adapting to the age of hyperconnectivity is a matter of life and death for the majority of companies, according to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit. More than half of enterprises feel very strong competitive pressure from digital offerings by their traditional competition, established companies using digital to enter their market, and digital startups. Certainly, the competition is not waiting, and neither will today’s well-informed digital customers, who want more choice, better customization, and more information around the buying process. While digitization might add another disruptive dimension to an already rising complexity, discrete manufacturers are seeking the benefits of digitization. They are already proactively exploring the use of the IoT to better connect their supply chains, assets, and products, according to an IDC white paper, The Internet of Things and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries, sponsored by SAP.

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Most manufacturers start with less complex projects, such as enhanced visibility or tracking, and progress to more sophisticated processes that require automated or predictive workflows, according to IDC. The findings of the study suggest that companies should start their IoT projects with the overarching goal of a live business operation already in mind. By combining three IoT use cases for manufacturing, i.e. connecting products, creating a connected shop floor with customization, and extending digital business models (see chart), companies will create a competitive business operation that fully exploits the digital opportunities.

Connecting products to improve innovation

Using IoT for innovation is a highly underestimated potential of digitization. A significant percentage of new products fail, and the associated R&D and marketing costs are lost. Customers already expect their products to come with a certain degree of interactivity and this demand will certainly grow in the future. According some estimates on the adoption of connected technology by consumers, the ratio of connected and interactive products will rise to approximately 20% on average by 2020, according to Forbes. This is a conservative estimate, and in some segments the ratio might increase much faster.

By digitizing current products and launching fully digitized ones, manufacturers can significantly reduce the risk of new product failures, as IoT-based products will enable them to monitor the actual use and performance of their products, get live feedback from their customers, and adopt future product innovation. IDC expects that by 2017, 60% of global manufacturers will use IoT to sense data from connected products and analyze that data to optimize the product portfolios, performance, and manufacturing processes. Similarly, the integration of IT assets and information with operational technology in the plant and the supply chain is also on the roadmap, if not already started.

Connecting the shop floor

Digitization offers the possibility to oversee every step in the manufacturing process, from customer demand, through production, and across the complete supply chain. The IDC study identified two IoT use cases – strategic asset management and customer experience – that seem to be very attractive for discrete manufacturing.

1. Strategic asset management

Manufacturers should start to digitize all of their assets in the production process and use IoT-based preventive and predictive maintenance scenarios in the plant and supply chain to reduce downtime and improve utilization. Using the information generated from digitization and IoT, businesses can evaluate use patterns and maintenance routines of their inventory and assets and optimize operations. Fixed assets can account for as much as one-third of all operating costs, so under today’s cost pressures a digital asset management surely matters. To fully use the potential of IoT and the real-time information gathered from assets, devices, and machines, companies need to ramp up their analytical and decision-making capabilities. Anecdotally, companies report that IoT use cases (such as remote maintenance) changed the way they thought about data and got them thinking significantly differently about information and insights.

2. Customization for customer experience

Demand for more choice, flexibility, and customized products is growing fast and estimated to be 15% of all products by 2020, according to MIT Smart Customization Group. Depending on size, material, and complexity, that percentage might be significantly higher. However complex the challenge for manufacturers might be, connected production in real-time is the basis, and it needs the right data from production capabilities, supply, equipment, and workforce, combined with all customer preferences. Getting the customer into the customization and production process is increasingly important for an improved customer experience, so IoT should be used to connect the products and, with it, the customer. This will not only give companies valuable data about user preferences and ideas for product innovation and improvements, but it will allow them to plan the customization of products much more efficiently.

Digitally enhanced business models

Digitization is by now a synonym for disruption. According to a study by the Economist Intelligence Unit, 60% of companies think that digitization is the biggest risk they face. More than half of companies feel competitive pressure from digital offerings by their traditional competition and digital startups. As IDC found, discrete manufacturers are already actively exploring the IoT opportunities, so the change is already underway.

As we pointed out previously, the customer experience of choosing and buying a product is increasingly important, but it does not stop there. IoT-connected products will get the customer into an ongoing interaction with the product vendor and/or retailer, enhancing the buying and use experience. Moreover, companies can use this connection to expand their business models. In its study, IDC mentions a wider range of ideas that manufacturers already explore, such as remote maintenance, refill and replenishment, contracting, product performance, training, and location-based services. While they may not be applicable for all companies, they show the wide range of possibilities and opportunities. Digitization may be a threat for some traditional business models and companies, but it offers huge potentials for those who focus on the customer experience.

Creating a live business operation

The huge potential that IoT offers is less the physical connection of things, machines, and devices, and more the opportunity to create a live business operation based on an advanced data strategy and analytics. While all aspects of IoT have large innovation opportunities on their own, the combination of connected products, customization, and digitally expanded business models promises the biggest benefits for discrete manufacturers. Thus any IoT strategy – wherever it starts – should be created with a larger digitization goal in mind.

Conclusion

  • Connecting products and strategic asset management has big potentials for discrete industries.
  • The combination of connected products, customization, and digitally expanded business models promises the biggest benefits.
  • Companies should create a live business operation with advanced data and analytical skills to use the full potential of IoT.

For more details and information, please read IDC’s IoT whitepaper IoT and Digital Transformation: A Tale of Four Industries and look for future IoT papers that delve deeper into the IDC study’s findings.


Kai Goerlich

About Kai Goerlich

Kai Goerlich is the Chief Futurist at SAP Innovation Center network. His specialties include competitive intelligence, market intelligence, corporate foresight, trends, futuring, and ideation. Share your thoughts with Kai on Twitter @KaiGoe.