CIOs Need To Learn How To Transform Their Factory Into The Future

The company's factory needs some help from the CIO
The company’s factory needs some help from the CIO
Image Credit: Dimitrios Zervas

As the person with the CIO job, you spend a lot of your time thinking about importance of information technology which includes things like the cloud, securing the network, etc. However, the company that you work for is in business to do one thing – make money. They generally do this by running a factory and creating goods. What this means for you as the CIO is that you need to spend some time thinking about the factory and how the IT department can help to make it run more effectively.

What IT Can Do To Help The Factory

Every company has a vision of what they want their factory to look like in the future. It transforms from the worker filled building that it is today into a sleek line of robots that whirl and automatically perform their individual tasks. Having these robots working for the company means that nothing will ever break down and all deliveries can be made on time. Since the factory of the future will be fully wired, machine health will be monitored and any issues will be quickly and efficiently dealt with.

The challenge that the company is facing is that although they know what they would like the future to look like, it’s not here yet. Instead, they find themselves using decades-old machinery that has yet to be equipped with any sort of sensors. The problem that the company is facing is that there are no ready-made solutions that will allow them to get from where they are to where they want to be. The good news is that this change has been done.

In order to convert a factory from the way that it currently is to the way that the company wants it to be, the CIO needs to understand that each case is going to be different. In order to be successful, you are going to have to have a deep understanding of what each machine in the factory does. Additionally, the metrics to be tracked on a per machine basis have to be determined. Your IT team will have to learn to use trial and error in order to determine just exactly what sensor should be used and where on a given machine it should be placed. Once you have all of this taken care of, the person in the CIO position is still going to have to plan for the collection of data from each monitored machine, filtering this data, and then, of course, making use of all of the data that has been collected.

The Challenges Of Changing The Factory

In the factory of the future, it’s all about data. If you have the ability to monitor and collect data from all of your equipment, then you’ll have the information that you’ll need in order to start to predict when one of your pieces of factory equipment may start to fail – before it fails. The metrics that get tracked include such items as temperature and vibration. By monitoring these values, the people running the factory can keep their machines running at peak efficiently. The goal is to collect enough data so that factory managers can be alerted when a problem shows up that could slow manufacturing down or, in the worst case, shut down the entire factory.

All of the data that comes pouring off of monitored machines in a factory has to then be fed into an analytics system that can then predict problems hopefully long before they start to show up in the factory. The sensors that get added to machines in the factory have the downside of making the monitored equipment more complicated. This is in addition to the sensors themselves being complex. A CIOs challenges will start with trying to select the correct sensors for their factory. You may end up having to take the time to conduct a series of test runs in order to discover which type of sensor will work best in your factory.

In addition to choosing the correct sensors, CIOs will also find themselves being asked to help out with the process of installing the sensors. There is a certain set of data that the company wants to collect, when the sensors are being installed you are going to have to make sure that you are going to be able to collect the data that you need from this machine, not, for example, vibrations from a nearby machine. In order to do this correctly, calibration work by experienced engineers may be required.

What All Of This Means For You

Most companies make their money by creating items that are then sold for a profit. These items have to be created somewhere and that is why so many companies have a factory. Most companies can dream of a future where their factory is staffed by robots who never break down and never make a mistake. However, that future does not exist yet. The CIO is responsible for helping the company get from where it is today to where it wants to be tomorrow.

When robots run our factories, they will be able to tell us before they break down. Since most companies are using older equipment what they would like is ready-made solutions, but these don’t exist. In order to convert an existing factory into a factory of the future, the CIO is going to have to take the time to understand what each machine does, and how it does it. Adding sensors to existing machines requires the CIO to participate in selecting the correct sensors for the company’s factories. Once the type of sensor has been determined, the next step is to determine where to place the sensors so that they’ll collect the required information.

Slowly our company’s factories are evolving towards the factories of the future that we can all imagine. As the company’s CIO, you need to play a role in moving your factories from where they are to where the company wants them to be. Using your knowledge of IT and applying to implementing a system to both monitor and track the machines that are used in the factory will provide the company with the data that it’s going to need. Show the company how to get the most out of their factory machines.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: Do you think that adding monitoring to a factory should be done piece by piece or all at once?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

You know, it really was not all that long ago that when we got ready for work we just grabbed our lunch and headed out the door. We knew that when we got to work our desktop computer would be sitting there ready for us to start to use it. Over time things have changed. First came laptops. Now we had to grab our laptop before we headed out the door. Next came mobile phones and all of their wonderful features. We needed to make sure that ours was fully charged so that we’ll be able to make it through the day. Finally, tablets have arrived and none of us are really sure what to do with these – do we still need laptops?