Continuous Improvement (CI) or Kaizen has been one of the most powerful concepts in Lean Manufacturing. Kaizen focuses on multiple small improvements instead of a few radical ones and depends on employees taking ownership of their work to bring continuous improvement. Over the past few decades, similar process improvements programs like: Operational Excellence, Six Sigma, and TQM have been introduced in the manufacturing industry.
Alas, as established Continuous Improvement initiatives delivering incremental improvement across different areas of the business mature, there is a diminishing return to the efforts invested – as companies come closer and closer to optimal performance. With inexpensive sensors, Cloud and Edge computing, and robust network architectures became widely available, IIoT implementation has become accessible and affordable for manufacturers. This allows manufacturers to establishing new operational efficiencies by having visibility across these structured, semi-structured, and unstructured data which don’t sub-optimise silos but holistically optimise the system. For instance, in the oil and gas industry, companies can maximise pump performance over time by implementing IIoT. One operator reported a 43% reduction in power consumption ($60k per month) per pump due to a decrease in pump cycles based on new IIoT approaches.
However, Operational Excellence initiatives are as much about process, and technology as the interaction of people. Therefore, with integrated systems and processes, and real-time visibility, companies can provide a modern and attractive workplace while simultaneously empowering the workforce to make powerful data-driven decisions and drive business improvements.It is important to remember that IIoT empowers the people implementing Continuous Improvement; it does not replace them.
Digitalising Continuous Improvement will have a significant impact in the way manufacturing is done. However, despite the above benefits., manufacturing companies still often struggle with the implementation of new technology. LNS Research has identified that for some manufacturers it is easier to implement IIoT for a new project on smart connected assets rather than retrofitting existing assets with IIoT. Many industrial companies are left with unused software shortly after implementation projects are completed. By leveraging CI in the deployment of new digital technology, companies can leverage the cultural strengths and change management capabilities that are embedded with these CI processes and organisations, reducing the risk of failed or misaligned implementations.
Although starting the transformative journey with IoT can be challenging, the available technology is now making nearly every company in re-approach the fundamentals of their business. Therefore, manufacturers should begin investing in IoT solutions immediately as every moment wasted is another step forward for your competition, and in today’s interconnected world, immediacy is everything.
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