The new reality of interconnected systems

Posted on 13 May 2017 by The Manufacturer

Interconnected systems are already commonplace in British homes, and very soon they will be a reality in industry, says FORCAM’s Andrew Steele.

Interconnected Systems Manufacturing Robot Automation Stock Image
According to a McKinsey report, one of the top barriers to adopting a 4IR solution is integrating data from disparate systems.

The majority of people in the UK own or use a smartphone. However, we don’t just use them for making calls or sending messages – they play a much more involved and important role in our daily lives, and some of us would be totally lost without our ever-present companion.

What many people don’t realise when they pick up their phone is that they’re constantly using interconnected systems. They could be tagging a business in social media, writing a review on Trip Advisor or changing settings on their central heating at home.

The promise of 4IR

The smartphone first arrived 10 years ago, hot on the heels of social media platforms such as Facebook three years before that, while the internet itself was born 30 years ago.

Industry 4.0, or the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR) arrived in Europe only six years ago, but what it promises is that interconnected systems will become as fundamental in manufacturing as a smartphone is in our daily lives.

According to the Industry 4.0 Global Expert Survey published by McKinsey, one of the top barriers to adopting a 4IR solution is integrating data from disparate systems.

To face this challenge, McKinsey recommend focusing on a limited number of applications, using technology workarounds, building a portfolio of third-party technology providers, establishing a dedicated team that drives innovation, and experimenting with new business models.

So, how do we make interconnected systems work?

Well, take a shop-floor management solution like FORCAM, where the system:

  • Gets production orders from an ERP system
  • Communicates manufacturing data from product lifecycle management (PLM) systems
  • Interfaces with quality-measurement software
  • Gives live feedback on work orders to the ERP system
  • Certifies NC programmes (co-ordinates for manufacturing operations)

All this data flowing between these disparate systems is only possible  because the FORCAM product suite is an Industry 4.0 solution, which means it is outward-facing and interoperable with third-party software.

Integration and interconnection

Many companies are already using software solutions, so the challenge for manufacturers is not implementing a whole new system that supersedes or replaces everything, but integrating a new solution in the existing IT landscape.

Andrew Steele, managing director, FORCAM UK.
Andrew Steele, UK managing director, FORCAM.

A vital aspect of all systems is open application programming interfaces (APIs). They define the method and data structure for communicating between two structures. At FORCAM, we are working on an Open API to further integrate existing software in manufacturing companies, making it considerably easier to communicate data and add new third-party applications to our platform.

Interconnected systems will soon become an absolute necessity for successful manufacturing companies. Changing business models will only increase complexity and require fully integrated business planning, manufacturing, licensing, services models and an interconnected supply chain. Industry 4.0 is about integrating solutions that manufacturers already have in place, and adding new digital technologies.

A true Industry 4.0 solution doesn’t safeguard the data it contains, but can exchange it with other islands of data – the basis for interconnected systems. It is a development that will not only have influence on the manufacturing side of a company, but also on all aspects of the business, from product management to business planning.

Interconnected systems will be a real driver for new business models, which many manufacturing companies are already starting to face today.

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