By Tim Phillips

This week the Internet of Manufacturing UK team caught up with Deborah Sherry, Senior Vice President and Chief Commercial Officer at GE Digital Europe. Deborah Sherry will be delivering a keynote presentation on Digital Transformation: Where to Start, Where to Focus on Day 2 of Internet of Manufacturing UK at 9.30am.

Where do you see the Internet of Things and its technologies creating the most impact?

When we talk about IoT often we think of the consumer world – smartphones, smart fridges. That’s the IoT that we experience every day. But the Industrial Internet of Things is where we are seeing the greatest benefits. It is helping to reduce the amount of energy and raw materials that manufacturers use to make their products, it is helping them to better match production to consumer demand, and it is helping them to better coordinate with their supply chains. Most of all, it is helping them avoid unplanned downtime – which adds up to great increases in productivity.

In addition, IoT technologies enable companies to deploy new business models as they are better able to guarantee and control manufacturing line and product performance. Whether you are in the manufacturing sector – such as automotive, chemicals, semiconductor, food & Beverage or consumer packaged goods – IIoT technologies are changing the way products are made.

What are the key technologies that you believe will transform industry over the next 2 years?

Artificial intelligence & Machine learning will enable industry to reach new levels of productivity by decreasing machine down-time and increasing production efficiency. We will be able to analyse more and more complex data sets, more quickly to generating incredible outcomes. New level of productivity is not going to come from new technologies. They are already here. It will come from a stronger adoption of it within industrial companies that did not adopt it as fast as some B2C companies.

How far away are we from being able to truly benefit from IoT?

The Industrial Internet of Things is already delivering billions of dollars of value. Once we connect production lines, machines and all factory software, we are able to manage and analyse all that industrial data to make a wide variety of productivity gains. That could be because we can predict machine downtime – and therefore optimize maintenance schedules. Or it could be because we are able to get the right data to the right levels of an organization more efficiently. One example of this is the work we are doing with Procter&Gamble, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of consumer packaged goods (CPG).

We just launched a solution which enables manufacturers to collect port data from all their various factories to the cloud, meaning all lines that are connected to Manufacturing Execution Systems (MES). For instance, P&G is leveraging GE Digital’s Predix Manufacturing Data Cloud (MDC) solutions capabilities by moving manufacturing data and running powerful analytics in the cloud. P&G has already gained a detailed, data-supported view into their manufacturing processes, providing insights that drive efficiencies. The new offering is helping the company meet data compliance regulations and significantly increase the speed of its on-premise MES, in addition to delivering new insights about their global efficiency.

How can organizations justify the costs of Industrial IoT projects?

IoT projects are not a cost but an investment. Take the example of Gerdau, the largest producer of long steel in the Americas. The digital programme they embarked on with us was part of a bigger strategy to reduce overall maintenance costs linked to their machines by the year 2022. Based on the success of the initial Asset Performance Management pilot, they scaled our solution up to 12 plants. The solution helps them to predict maintenance issues BEFORE they take place – allowing them to optimize their service strategies and avoid unplanned downtime. They’re now saving $4.5 million per year from their maintenance bill – and achieved return on investment in half the time they initially expected.

What are the main challenges Manufacturers are facing to reap the rewards from IoT?

We see 2 main challenges for manufacturers to adopting a successful level of digital readiness; cultural and technical.

First, Cultural: Digital transformation, and digital readiness more broadly, require a significant cultural shift, but many industrial companies are not prepared to reorganise quickly enough. This cultural ‘friction’ often takes place between digital culture where products and projects are released in fast, imperfect iterations, and industrial culture where products and projects are released slowly and methodically. It is essential to get an organisation to be ‘digitally aware’ and people to accept and adapt to increasing complexity, as well as accepting to do things differently. It is vital to also allow an incremental continuous improvement mentality based on trials & iterations. The impact on culture will further depend on how disruptive the specific technology will cause change and on the speed of change. Most senior decision makers are aware that they need to make significant organisational changes to enable digital transformation. They need to create a business structure that is adaptive to change and speed – and that brings together the IT and operational technology (OT) parts of the organisation.

Another challenge is Technical. I usually say we should ‘Think big, start small, scale fast’. ‘Think big’ because the true value of transformation happens at enterprise level. The best companies have a clear vision in mind, which helps to avoid wasted resources. ‘Start small’ because demonstrating quick wins is important, and companies should not attempt to bite off more than they can chew. And finally, ‘scale fast’. Once the value has been proven at pilot level, companies should move quickly to operationalise the pilot and start their multi-site or global roll-outs.

What are you currently working on or are most excited about?

What is very exciting today is to feel the readiness of more and more industrial companies to embrace digital transformation and to see that those we are helping, from Automotive, FMCG, Chemicals etc. have been able drive real value from their digital journey.

It’s very exciting to be at the heart of the 4th industrial revolution. We are helping industrial companies drive more efficiency, innovate with new business models, reduce their environmental footprint, and embrace their social responsibility in the way they design, produce and offer products & services.