Alain Dedieu, SVP, Strategy, Industry Business, Schneider Electric
The development of new technologies, including investments in high performance computing (HPC), nuclear fission, and renewable energies like wind, is one of the key drivers of economic growth that we will see continue around the world. In Industry, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is the key driver of new technologies. The digitization of industry with the IIoT is increasing the competitiveness of industrial companies in both mature and developing economies, and will enable the companies that adopt it to both expand their industrial workforce and increase their productivity.
What’s driving business for manufacturing companies?
One of the key benefits of digitization is the development of smart supply chains. Customized supply chains that are tailor-made to suit the needs of the different players involved across the complete production life cycle will generate higher revenues. This is possible thanks to IIoT technologies that, for example, connect each step in the supply chain, and software that aggregates and collects supply chain data in one place, among other improvements.
For those producing locally for local consumption, supply chains can be optimized for “just in time” manufacturing, reducing waste and inventory. For global businesses, optimized supply chains mean they can take advantage of expertise where it is available. For example, product conception and design could be completed in one country while production could be located very close to the customer – which can also reduce delivery costs.
With growing middle classes that are willing to pay more for safety and quality, traceability is becoming increasingly important, and smart supply chains are making this much easier. Producing quality goods with digital traceability is bringing real value by enabling manufacturers to command higher prices for the higher quality goods demanded by their consumers.
The risk of cyberattack is increasing every day. Cyber security threats are an unfortunate fact of life that impact everyone at work and at home. All businesses must protect themselves while continuing to grow, leverage new technology, and deliver the best results. The development of tailored risk management systems and strategies to increase cyber security will create new areas of business for small and large companies alike.
Cloud capabilities are broadening the accessibility of almost everything. Sharing data, paying per use of software and machines, and having multiple people work simultaneously using the same database to improve efficiency – none of these were previously possible. For large companies, these cloud-based capabilities mean they can now have specialists, regardless of their location, manage their facilities and assets anywhere (and often remotely), and aggregate a lot of data in one place. For smaller companies, the cloud is removing the cost and efficiency barriers to high performance computing technologies and software-on-demand.
The increase in digital services that can be developed and deployed thanks to the IIoT is generating an enormous amount of revenue for industrial companies. The ability to monitor and control, in real time, the status of both large and small industrial assets (for example, when they start, stop, and under what conditions) provides the opportunity to develop a contract with a customer, not on the capital expenditure of the asset, but on the performance improvements that can be generated by the optimized asset. For end users, this increases the value of their investment, and for service providers, it generates a continuous revenue stream.
Open platforms are essential to the advancement of the IIoT and to availing industrial companies of all the benefits it offers. A platform that is developed to be open from the beginning simplifies connectivity through open standards and cloud-based architectures. It also fosters the development of, and collaboration among, an extensive network of partners who use the platform to create new applications that further enrich that platform. In addition, an open IIoT platform enables advanced collaboration ecosystems where all players (designers, consultants, developers, system integrators, OEMs, distributors, technology experts, and partners, etc.) in the production life cycle can be easily identified and given security clearance to interact seamlessly.
What’s driving job growth in manufacturing?
While uptake of the IIoT will see demand decrease for workers who perform simple and repetitive tasks that can be standardized and performed by machines, new trends are also emerging that are creating new jobs in industrial segments.
Big data collection will require highly qualified data and analytics experts and create new opportunities for “data scientists.” These roles will require experts to deep dive into the wealth of information generated from connected machines, plants, and processes, and come up with innovative ways to put that information to use for business improvements. These roles will also be expected to create new and innovative types of analysis and data to analyze.
The demands to augment the operator – equip workers with mobile devices, data analytics, Augmented Reality, and transparent connectivity to increase productivity, and operate and manage the plant in real-time – will increase the market demands for more flexibility and profitability from manufacturing organizations. The human element in gathering, comparing, and analyzing data is essential – human beings bring creativity, subjectivity, and innovation – none of which can be replicated by a machine. But being able to provide operators with data within context, training with Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality, and simulation capabilities, means decision-making will be smarter and faster.
Robot production and increased automation of plants and processes will consequently increase the need for robotics experts who can coordinate, set up, and maintain simple and complex robots. Robotics will support and drastically improve the very complex, dangerous, and/or sensitive tasks that still need to be done or double-checked by human beings.
Simulation and digital twins will increase the demand for industrial engineers and simulation experts who can help to grow a business using digital replication models for process improvements.
Predictive maintenance will allow manufacturers to repair equipment before breakdowns occur and, as such, will generate additional demand for workers skilled in system design, IT, data science, and field-services engineering.
Job growth and economic stability are top-of-mind in most countries around the world, and it’s often too easy to assume that innovation will lead to a reduction in both. However, this is not the case, and for industrial companies the opportunities generated by the IIoT are just too great to ignore.