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Reducing Disruptions in Manufacturing using the Internet of Things

By Sivan Veera, Sr. Principal Enterprise Strategic Architect

Shop floors have evolved from simple job-card-based push scheduling to advanced Kanban based pull scheduling. However, even the most sophisticated Kanban systems suffer from various interruptions. A technique called fluid scheduling leverages the Internet of Things (IoT) to solve this problem.  Fluid scheduling is a fundamental change where scheduling happens by what parts are currently available rather than what should be available based on a predetermined schedule. IoT based fluid shop floors also move scheduling out of the shop floor to centralized command centers where multiple physical shop floors can work as a single logical shop floor. This aggregation can plug-in multiple shop floors together in a "shop floor as a service" model creating a pathway for disruptive business models.

What is a Fluid Shop floor and how does IoT help?

Figure 1 illustrates an IoT based Fluid Shop floor. Sensors are mounted on pallets and count parts inside the pallet in regular intervals. Sensors stream these counts to a Central Scheduling Center which are external to the shop floor. Scheduling centers are networked to machines and they send machine schedules in near real time. Scheduling centers consider the availability of parts in real time, continuously update schedules and push the schedules to the machines. Scheduling centers also move parts from pallet to pallet based on the machine schedule. This type of scheduling is different from Kanban based scheduling where parts required are computed for each machine and updated with the assumption that these parts will arrive at right time at right machine at right quantity. This type of IoT based situational scheduling is also different from conventional push scheduling where parts are scheduled for a long period say a week or month and are not updated in between based on disruptions.


Figure 1: IoT based Fluid Shop floor

Role of IoT in Fluid Shop Floors

IoT sensors mounted on every pallet count the parts inside them and stream the data to Central Scheduling Centers. By knowing the exact parts available at each machine and also the parts available in the incoming area of the shop floor itself, scheduling centers will be able to calculate schedules in real time and update the machines. Since schedules need to be calculated real time and they are compute resource intensive, cloud computing fits well for scheduling centers. When scheduling centers integrate across many shop floors, high velocity ingestion from multiple sensors can also be handled effectively by cloud computing. For the sensors to identify parts in the pallet, each part in the shop floor need to be tagged with RFID tags. Sensors stream the part identification and pallet information to the scheduling centers.

What Business Models can IoT Fluid Shop Floors disrupt?

In today's business model, large shop floors are built around producing a small set of Products. Shop floors are optimized for mass production. Introducing new products in market takes years of building custom designed shop floors. Fluid scheduling lifts this limitation.  Many IoT based fluid shop floors can be assembled together into one logical shop floor and produce different parts in a short time. Many startups can build platforms to assemble these shop floors together in a short time. New companies will emerge building and launching products in a shorter time disrupting large established corporations. Pricing of products also will significantly change since large investments need not be made on large shop floors.

What can we expect in the future?

The Internet of Things enables shop floors to transform to the next level of agility and sophistication by dynamically modifying machine schedules based on the available of parts at that moment. This eliminates waste even beyond the gains made by Kanban based scheduling. With IoT based fluid shop floors, customers will be able to order parts by supplying designs and having those parts delivered within weeks with less upfront cost. Will there be a market place where multiple shop floors come and go as a "shop floor as a service?" Can customers bring new products to the market every quarter with such a service? Can shop floors be completely automated and controlled externally?

With the advent of IoT enabled fluid shop floors, we may witness disruption in business models at a rate we have not seen since the advent of industrial revolution.  What do you think?


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