Production line monitoring
Involved in a project with the Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) in 2010, Sutton Tools found the need to facilitate communication between staff and partners around the country.
Using team collaboration software and enterprise wiki Atlassian Confluence, Sutton Tools quickly realised that they were able to use the platform to manage the project and share written communications, as well as transferring data from their equipment straight to the application. That data was then shared with the team.
This was the company’s first real foray into live data, but the concept of monitoring and gathering data from equipment has been important in industrial businesses for a long time. Steve Dowey, Technology Manager at Sutton Tools, explains:
“If you’re in automotive, or a big plant, or you run an energy company, or you make chocolate biscuits, you would have always had a huge understanding of your equipment and your factory through a SCADA system.”
SCADA, or supervisory control and data acquisition, is a computer system that gathers and analyses data – in this case, from industrial equipment.
Breaking down the barriers
For businesses today, the core difference between a system such as SCADA and the IoT, he says, is accessibility. By now the cost of making an object internet-aware has fallen dramatically.
“So what that means,” says Steve, “is especially in engineering, the low-value production line that you wouldn’t have applied the SCADA system to because it wasn’t cost effective, has suddenly become something you can look at doing.”
“The need for management data in real time from equipment has always been there,” he adds.
“Whether or not you could afford to do it, or that it made business sense to do it, is now the difference.
“IoT has lowered the bar to give you this information from your systems [cost-effectively].”
But what does the increase in IoT capability actually allow businesses to do? For Sutton Tools, it means the transition from gathering historical data on production lines and equipment, to gathering near real-time data that informs better business decisions.
In the past, monitoring systems without SCADA would have provided business owners with data from their production lines yesterday, or the day before, or during the week. With IoT in place, they can be analysing it as it happens.
“When it comes to IoT, we’re in a very early stage of that [data] adoption,” says Steve.
“But I can see that we can start to make decisions on productivity, or decisions on how a line is being operated in real time. And as the data is being analysed as we go, you don’t have to wait until a day later.”
What will be crucial in the development of IoT within businesses, is to apply the data gathered in an intelligent way – plus realising what kind of data you don’t need.
“Just getting information for information’s sake isn’t necessarily going to be of any use or any value,” says Steve.
“You’ve got to then determine how you’re going to interpret it.”
Information is power
Once businesses have determined what kind of information benefits them most, there’s no shortage of scope when it comes to utilising it.
More information on your systems could mean less waste, or quicker set up times. Intelligent measurement systems have the potential to increase quality control. Ability to share more live data with your customer could increase their involvement in the process – giving them ownership of the product earlier in the process.
However, Steve emphasises, an IoT solution isn’t just bought and plugged in.
In order to reap the benefits of increased connectivity, you have to have the right skill set in your company in order to configure and establish what you need from the connected network.
“It’s a big crossover between IT and engineering that is larger than has occurred before,” says Steve.
For businesses and connectivity, cost is one barrier that is being quickly overcome. Collaboration between departments and careful application of data are now pivotal to launching and operating a truly successful IoT solution.