Dr. Seuss’ The Cat in the Hat is a children’s story that has been enjoyed by generations. The premise of the story is that on a rainy day the Cat shows up to brighten the dullness with a bit of fun for the children. The Cat happens to bring a couple of anthropomorphic friends known only as Thing 1 and Thing 2.
It is hard to imagine anything getting more buzz in the manufacturing world than the Internet of Things (IoT). There are blogs upon blogs and articles upon articles about connecting to smart machines and devices. This connection will foster the harvesting of extreme amounts of data that will allow us to garner unparalleled understanding and push towards unprecedented benefits. IoT is the “bit of fun” that has arrived to brighten the dull manufacturing floor.
It occurs to me that in all of this discussion of IoT there is something missing in terms of connectivity. The bulk of the dialog surrounding IoT is about making machines that are more brilliant and deriving increased understanding through intimate machine analysis. The most brilliant thinking devices on the factory floor continue to be the people working there. We have not even begun to harness the power of Thing 1 and Thing 2.
As you may remember, Thing 1 and Thing 2 are a bit unruly in Dr. Seuss’s tale. They fly kites in the house, bump around and cause a fair bit of mayhem. I don’t mean to equate this chaotic behavior to floor-level personnel. What I do want to point out is that Thing 1 and Thing 2 are where the majority of the action is in Dr. Seuss’ story. Correspondingly, I believe that the personnel on the factory floor are where most of the action is in the manufacturing story.
With the exception of highly automated plants that produce high-volumes of consumer products and the like, much of manufacturing is still done in modest volumes in work cells or with semi-automated equipment. There are manual touch points everywhere in terms of machine operation, material staging, operator intervention, quality inspection and knowledge-based decision making. In practical terms of driving increases in operational effectiveness, these plants can actually benefit more from a closer connection to the operator than a deeper knowledge of the machine.
A very simple example is the automation of line-side production reporting. There are still many factory floors supported by paper log sheets where the results get logged by data entry personnel well after the production is completed. What happens if we change that dynamic to a “smart” transaction? Our operator, Thing 1, completes a production order with a good quantity of 800 and a scrap quantity of 50. Instead of the reported values sitting on a log sheet until the end of the shift, Thing 1 enters them through a mobile tablet. Thing 1 even adds freeform comments and insights about the order. That entry is immediately verified for integrity and is translated into multiple pre-configured transactions. Yes, the basic production reporting is completed, but so also is the back flush of material in ERP, the capture of the operator labor and even the request for staging of material for the next production order. All of this activity can be triggered off that simple data exchange. The entire organization from customer service, through production planning and all of operations shares a single and uniform on-line view of order and equipment status. Thing 1’s value here would be impossible to replace with a counter or set of sensors. Thing 1 clicked once and the whole world was brightened.
I do not in any way disparage the core IoT idea that there is benefit in live connections to complex assets with great opportunity for process improvements. I do think that there are still very real opportunities for immediate impact by better integrating manufacturing personnel. People continue to be the smartest device that ever hit the factory floor.
Changes upon changes the future will bring.
The world will be brighter with the Internet of Things.
But let us not forget Thing 1 and Thing 2.
Connecting to people might be the right thing to do.