As supply chains change, so must the companies
How will the proliferation of 3D printers change manufacturing? What must manufacturers consider when building their Industrial Internet ecosystems? Is there even a need to build one strictly for the company in question? Mikko Aro, Head of Industrial Internet Business at Solita, believes that the proper path in building the right solutions for companies can be found through collaboration and a bit of encouragement for all the parties involved.
Supply chains are changing due to the abundance of technology and the ability to localize production from large production plants to small workshops. According to Aro, the industrial sector might follow the example set in the consumer markets, where a company takes hold of one part of the manufacturers’ traditional business models by building a new digital service platform.
“We might see a shift, where the connection of suppliers and buyers in these settings becomes centralized. Data could be collected on a production plant’s excess capacity, for example. This data can then be provided for other companies in the market, thus reducing the need for middlemen in the transactions”, Aro says.
This development in the market place could also lead to a situation, where various stages in the production process disappear completely.
“Traditionally products have been produced in large facilities, where they have been both fabricated and assembled. Through the rapid developments in 3D printing technology, the companies’ core competencies might be in knowing how certain materials are produced. This will change the companies’ roles in supply chains.”
Companies could offer this knowledge as a digital asset. In the best-case scenario, the customers would pay for a service instead.
“What this could mean, for example, is offering certain schematics for various products, and then mixing ingredients, such as metal alloys for the customers. They can then print the final product themselves as they see fit”, Aro says.
The choice between building ecosystems and becoming a part of one
Aro has consulted several clients in taking the first steps towards the Industrial Internet. According to him, there are several topics to be tackled before the companies can start thinking about the implementation of these intelligent systems.
The challenge for the companies is that the value of the solution is not necessarily seen in the beginning, but comes evident through experiments, measurements and learning. The companies might even need to offer incentives for the partners involved in their operations, so that they will too adopt this new way of thinking. This is especially true, when a company wants to lure other players in the ecosystem to start experimenting with solutions.
“Many companies think that the right decision is to build a solution, into which others in their business process will join. But the problem is that if everyone builds their own ecosystems, everyone also remains isolated.”
The companies must also consider if they want to build their own ecosystem for services, or if they should adapt their products to be compliant with other systems. For some, the best model might be to “join” multiple different ecosystems, especially if their own area of expertise is narrow.
“Many companies think that the right decision is to build a solution, into which others in their business process will join. But the problem is that if everyone builds their own ecosystems, everyone also remains isolated. Therefore, companies should first think about their key competencies in producing value in the future”, Aro says.
Another thing worth considering, according to Aro, is the variety of questions regarding how this business intelligence is achieved.
“Who are to be included? What will their roles be? What will the user experience be like? How will each of the partners create and gather value from the ecosystem? A lot of these things are often not taken into sufficient consideration before organizations start to build the platform for the ecosystem.”
Nanomaterials connect production chain components and reduce downtime
On top of the existing sensor technology and the tools for analyzing big data, the production facilities are also facing changes due to other technological advances. Among the emergent technologies are, for example, the different types of wearables and advanced optical material scanners.
For Aro, a good example of one of the ways through which performance can be boosted is utilizing nanomaterials.
“Combining nanomaterials and electronics to various products and thus improving machine-to-machine communication will make work more efficient. When each part of the production process can communicate with all the other parts, the downtime and waiting in processes will decrease”.
Due to the proliferation of cheap sensors and components, everything in the factories will become connected. When they are adapted into the system, the position or condition of equipment, temperature, or any of the desired values can be monitored, and this provides large opportunities in the whole logistical chain.
One of the recently discussed advancements in technology is augmented reality. Although Aro believes it has a place in the consumer markets, he remains a bit skeptical of its utilization in an industrial environment.
“I haven’t yet encountered a proper case with quantitative business benefits in which augmented reality is utilized in an industrial context. Manufacturers weigh costs to benefits very strictly in their operations. The value in the new technologies is found more in the way we change our thinking about production processes and our roles in them”.
According to Aro, getting started with Industrial Internet ecosystems can very well be fast and experimental, but this requires a lot of will, co-operation and stamina. Both internal discussions and brainwork, as well as collaborating with other companies in the production process are required for the ecosystems to flourish.
“Typically the best way to start is solving one selected use case, nothing more. That way you can control the costs and keep all the players focused on the common goal. If you start too big, the focus will disappear”.
Mikko Aro is the Head of Industrial Internet Business at Solita.
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