The “smartization” or connectivity of products, sensors, and machinery is opening doors to new and surprising possibilities within the industry. In a manufacturing company, for example, a smart set of sensors might allow plant directors to collect vast amounts of data in real-time to understand the performance and conditions of the process and determine possible adjustments.
In summary, the connectivity of a sensor, machine, or product allows two main things. On the one hand, connected devices provide for the exchange of information between the smart device and the overall operational environment or IT system. On the other hand, they allow some of the device's functionalities to extend far beyond the physical boundaries of the device itself.
In an interesting report published by Michael E. Porter and James E. Heppelmann in the Harvard Business Review, "How Smart, Connected Products Are Transforming Competition," the authors identify four main new capabilities that connectivity offers to any device or machine.
Monitoring: Having a device connected anywhere enables the comprehensive monitoring of its condition, the external environment, the operation, safety parameters, usage, and other predictive indicators. So, it opens the door to asset management and asset performance monitoring and even allows the device to generate alerts and notify you of any change in its performance.
Control: The software embedded in the product or the product cloud enables control of the product functions through remote commands or algorithms so that connected devices can respond to certain conditions automatically.
Optimization: Understanding the data from the connected devices and even being able to respond to certain conditions is essential for the overall optimization of the production process. The deep understanding of the process that the smart devices provide, and the analytics capabilities from the integration of devices, control systems, IT environment, BIs, etc., facilitates the generation of compelling insights into the plant performance that is key to ensuring continuous optimization.
Autonomy: Last but not least, combining monitoring, control and optimization allow for autonomous device operation, self-coordination of operation with other devices and systems, autonomous product enhancement and even self-diagnosis and service.
It’s clear for the industry that connectivity is a lot more than just having devices connected to the Internet. It needs to go necessarily through bridging the gap between the OT and IT worlds. The convergence is critical for the connectivity. While machine-to-machine and human-to-machine connectivity is the paramount focus of Industry 4.0, the actual underlying benefit of Industry 4.0 resides in machine-to-business connectivity.