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Transformative supply chain technology is a team sport. Everyone wins when all players in the ecosystem—including manufacturing MVPs— participate in silo-breaking, data-sharing Industrial IoT (IIoT) for greater collective value.
Yesterday’s lean manufacturing best practices helped us embrace continuous improvement. Through methodologies like Lean Six Sigma, manufacturers have focused within their own four walls on achieving operational excellence through collaborative team efforts to systemically eliminate waste in both physical and transactional processes.
As manufacturers experience an awakening to the potential cost and quality synergies of the future, many are realizing that operational excellence within their own four walls often does not connect their processes with other participants throughout the supply chain. Further, the manufacturers propelling our industry forward are thinking beyond one-up, one-down visibility in their supply chains.
To stay relevant, manufacturers must recognize the whole ecosystem and collaborate with every participant within it. In the complex network of interconnected supply chain systems, today’s internally focused manufacturing silos can shift to unlock digital end-to-end ecosystem visibility. Driven by emerging technologies, this evolving paradigm breaks traditional manufacturing barriers and leverages data-sharing for unprecedented value benefitting all involved.
Empowering the possibility of blurring the lines between the physical and digital worlds, IIoT enables the break-down of internal and external silos to better connect all players in the broader ecosystem. Transformative technologies like blockchain and artificial intelligence (AI) will simply validate that ideal. Tomorrow’s world-class manufacturing starts today, putting emerging technology into play to deliver operational excellence and shared value throughout the entire supply chain network.
Emerging Technologies Enabling a Digital Tomorrow
From manufacturing to energy management, IoT connects the physical, operational processes to the ecosystem’s performance. Sensors and the data collected from them create digital connections. For example, devices can monitor the physical movements of product and temperature sensors can monitor product freshness throughout the supply chain. Beyond the four walls of one facility, sensors that travel with product as the change in custody occurs create a bridge that digitally connects the supply chain.
Partnering with IBM, Golden State Foods (GSF) tested a temperature monitoring solution with its Protein Products business, sharing real-time beef temperature data with its partner companies, from meat processors to shippers to restaurants. During the transport of fresh beef along the supply chain, GSF leveraged RFID locator sensors to automatically track the meat’s movement, IoT devices to monitor its temperature, and blockchain technology to orchestrate standard business rules and permit information-sharing between supply chain entities.
According to IBM, its Food Trust initiative has completed 600,000 traces on food supply chains, including 40 million transactions involving more than 25,000 unique product skus, and users have shared they are experiencing as much as 30 percent less product loss and overall lower costs. Leading publications like Forbes and the Financial Times have recognized GSF’S innovation work with IBM among the foodservice industry’s leading initiatives to pilot emerging technologies in the supply chain.
Moving from mass production to an era of mass customization, the whole supply chain now focuses more on the customer than ever before. Emerging technologies make it possible to become connected to the consumer and tailor operations accordingly. For example, manufacturers can optimize human intelligence with algorithms and machine learning to predict inventory levels through the analysis of social media and consumption trends from point-of-use connected devices.
Interconnected Entities Empowering Continuous Improvement
By providing transparent lines of sight to market dynamics, the entire supply chain gains the ability to adjust production schedules in near real-time. Therefore, every player in the ecosystem has the opportunity to reduce waste, control inventory, and improve overall working capital. Further, supply chain entities can eliminate transactional waste not just by improving cycle times, but by eliminating redundancies across the ecosystem. This enables automating repetitive processes, such as receipt reconciliations.
When it comes to taking process automation beyond the mechanical, connected hardware and intelligent software put IoT into smart machines that talk to each other to optimize performance. Within a manufacturing facility, IoT-enabled automation could include smart production lines that connect digital outputs from equipment.
One of GSF’s U.S. Liquid Products facilities utilizes a fully automated robotic case palletizer. The system’s several conveyors simultaneously feed four different products into the robot from different production lines. Using sensors, programming, and real-time data, the system creates four different pallet configurations all at once and labels completed pallets with a license plate containing unique data for tracking during inventory and shipping. Sharing tracking data with suppliers, retailers, and other supply chain participants outside the production facility extends the traceability potential to serve the entire ecosystem.
Another example of highly automated, interconnected equipment, GSF’s U.S. Protein Products facility links smart machines together in its fresh beef packaging system, using data sensors for real-time adjustments, given line conditions. If one area of the production line stops or experiences a backup condition from a downstream piece of equipment, then the upstream equipment will slow down or stop completely to control product flow through the entire packaging system. Likewise, if product to pack becomes unavailable, then the equipment can slow down or temporarily stop until production resumes.
"By providing transparent lines of sight to market dynamics, the entire supply chain gains the ability to adjust production schedules in near real-time."
With minimal human intervention, the beef packaging lines optimize product flow throughout the entire packaging system. Imagine the optimization benefits for the whole supply chain ecosystem, if all players participate in IoT-enabled data-sharing, from the supply of raw materials to the demand of end consumers.
Fully interconnected manufacturing plants make it possible for supply chains to garner even greater value from real-time decisions happening through AI. Powered by IoT for real-time evaluation and course correction, predictive modeling and augmented intelligence can increase yield by reducing the extra steps for quality assurance processes.
Autonomous decision-making can also improve productivity by streamlining maintenance. The leading manufacturers of tomorrow will count on smart equipment with capabilities of self-monitoring, self-tuning, and self-correcting without human oversight. With 3D printing, manufacturers can accelerate the design process to form spare parts, for example, to keep the manufacturing lines running without interruptions.
Smart Machines Heightening Human Performance
While machine intelligence may replace human oversight in some ways, IoT will also connect people and performance for better outcomes. Three of GSF’s U.S. food manufacturing facilities have implemented real-time visibility into equipment and line performance to enable operators, maintenance associates, and leaders to connect through a unified engagement platform.
In the spirit of real-time problem solving and in-the-moment improvements to equipment performance, associates access the highly visual, interactive platform on smart devices. Leveraging sensors and machine data available through IoT, GSF associates have automated various routine operator checks and achieved completely paperless quality checks. In addition, the facilities have used advanced analytics to conduct loss analysis, solve chronic equipment problems, and visualize performance data throughout the organization.
By and large, the future of IIoT-enabled transformation in the digital supply chain begins with training people and adopting technology inside the four walls of each manufacturing facility. We start today inside our box, connecting machines and leveraging data, while thinking outside our box about tomorrow’s interconnected ecosystem of shared value. Everyone wins together by envisioning tomorrow’s ecosystem, transformed by today’s emerging technologies.