One of the great parts of my job is talking to industrial technologists from a wide variety of businesses. I had an interesting conversation recently with some people from a large dairy. Forget whatever image you may have; today’s large commercial dairies are extremely sophisticated enterprises that are always looking for new ways to leverage technology to enhance their production efficiency and their profitability. So when I started talking to the dairy people about how the industrial Internet of things (IIoT) dramatically increases the applicability of data generated throughout the plant, they totally got it.
While many enterprises today are focused on using data to drive predictive analytics for maintenance, the dairy was looking at an even higher level of value. They were looking at data and the IIoT as the keys to a complete rethinking of their supply chain.
Consumers value the cloud and IIoT because they can access anything from any device, anywhere. But for the enterprise, the real value is having visibility across the entire supply chain—in the case of the dairy, from the farm to the fridge. Instead of data residing in disconnected silos that no one else can see, the IIoT and the cloud connect all those dots, creating a new level of visibility for every player along the chain.
Dairy & IIoT
Why is this important to the dairy? It enables them to be far more agile and, therefore, more profitable. One day, cottage cheese is flying off the shelves and so the dairy can quickly allocate more of its milk to the cottage cheese plant. But maybe the next week, the weather changes and consumers are stocking up on ice cream instead of cottage cheese. By having access to real-time information, the dairy is able to quickly reallocate its milk and sell it to the ice cream factory down the road. And if there is a product quality problem at any point along the supply chain, the dairy can respond rapidly to limit any potential recall—a critical priority for protecting public safety, as well as the dairy’s valuable brand.
This is a great IIoT use case which doesn’t receive the attention it deserves. Having access to real-time data at every step in the chain enables businesses to more effectively anticipate consumer and supplier dynamics and make critical decisions proactively.
Where does it go from here? With consumer refrigerators now increasingly connected to the Internet, the potential for leveraging data regarding their product inventories (with their permission, of course) opens up a host of exciting opportunities for producers to anticipate consumer demand in new and extremely powerful ways.
Exciting stuff. But the key is building out an edge computing infrastructure that doesn’t expand IT’s workload. It has to be simple to deploy, highly reliable and easily serviceable (think remote servicing). And it has to protect the data that are critical to making this “transparent” supply chain work. Because whether you operate a dairy or an oil refinery, in an IIoT world, those data are the fuel that will drive your growth in the years ahead.