Special Feature
Part of a ZDNet Special Feature: Harnessing IoT in the Enterprise

How Hirotec added industrial IoT and improved its scheduling capabilities

A major auto parts manufacturer installed IoT in a six-week sprint project as its first dip into IoT implementation.

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Image: Nataliya Hora, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Over a six-week period last year, Hirotec, a $1.6 billion automotive part and tooling manufacturer with 23 locations around the world, implemented its first dive into industrial IoT in its Detroit, Mich. facility.

Hirotec officials began looking into IoT options in November 2015, and selected PTC as its provider in December that year. Planning began immediately, and it was implemented within six weeks in the spring of 2016, said Justin Hester, research and development project manager for Hirotec.

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"We wanted to utilize IoT, but we didn't want to design a system ourselves because we're not a software company. So what we did is once we identified an ecosystem partner in PTC, we wanted to start doing small projects and grow on those projects as we go along," Hester said.

The installation uses a framework supported by Kepware's connectivity platform, KEPServerEX, and PTC's ThingWorx IoT platform. PTC acquired Kepware for $100 million in December 2015 to bolster its IoT offerings. Kepware is a machine translator that allows traditionally disparate devices to speak to each other, and it works in conjunction with PTC's IoT platform and provides industrial data analysis to Hirotec.

"ThingWorx is very good at modeling data specifically in the industrial IoT. It's good in providing user-based experiences or user-based dashboards, and uses, records and accesses the information," said John Harrington, vice president for manufacturing strategy at Kepware for the IoT solutions within PTC.

Typically, a full IoT implementation can take years to generate a proof of concept, but the six-week installation -- which Hirotec calls "a sprint model"-- can show progress within weeks. There's already a significant impact on the company's scheduling process for it's Detroit facility, Hester said.

"In six weeks we went from no real-time visibility in our operations to now we have full visibility to the operational state at any time, with historical data capabilities so we can see any trend on our uptime or efficiency numbers. We were able to do that by Q2 of 2016," Hester said.

Additional benefits gained from the IoT implementation included:

  • Improved visibility into the processes of the CNC [Computer Numerical Control] machining shop and a deeper insight into operations.
  • An added ability to leverage real-time data from the shop floor and tie it to the scheduling ERP system, optimizing the scheduling of parts to CNC modules.
  • Increased productivity and ROI by gaining greater insight into asset and resource allocation.
  • Improved collaboration between operations and IT departments, reducing downtime and enabling more efficient responses to IT jobs.
  • Reduced costs, effort, and development time by selecting proven, interoperable technologies.
  • Provided quick proof-of-concept into the value of IoT via short, six-week Agile sprints.

And it's not just Detroit that's benefitting. Hirotec has already completed two installations and is working on a third.

"We took our early success in our American office and we implemented it in our Hiroshima, Japan office. We had a brand-new state-of-the-art inspection system and we just installed from scratch different robots with cameras and laser measuring sensors and photoelectric sensors. It measures over 80 points on an exhaust system to check for different quality metrics and gives this system a green light or red light. We'd just put this system in and it was working great but we realized we didn't have the real-time insight as to what was going on," Hester said.

One benefit of the IoT platform is that, when alarms go off if a machine stops working, it's easier to know what went wrong so the machine can be quickly adjusted to eliminate downtime. "For example, in the inspection system, we don't have to wait for someone to investigate. We're already seeing better efficiency numbers in being able to reduce our reaction times," Hester said.

Scaling up small projects

It was easier to implement IoT because it was broken down into smaller projects.

"One of the things that is big for us is we've seen other companies stumble because they try to change their whole global organization overnight. Instead of that we've said, 'let's do these small projects and scale up each time'. That's kept us more nimble and we've had more success," Hester said.

"In one year we've gone from not having any IoT to having our third project already rolling in IoT in a manufacturing environment. The other thing we're excited about is we've started to have conversations about putting IoT on the tooling side of the business. We're just starting to have those conversations and we're excited about where that will lead us," he said.

The implementation went smoothly, Hester said, because "We actually brought in our IT teams early as a part of this integral process. Especially in manufacturing, the engineering teams have always treated IT as those guys and ladies we have to bring in last minute -- but they can get it all done, it will be fine. They're usually brought in last minute a week before it needs to be done. But it never works out and the IT guys and the engineer guys just point at each other."

Having the IT team involved early definitely helped with the installation at Hirotec, said Aron Semle, ‎senior manager of Solutions Management at PTC. "Traditionally the IT shop and the OT [operations] shop have been two different business units and they don't often work together and they don't often get along."

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