When It Comes to Track and Trace, Manufacturers Should Think Big and Start Small

BrandPost By OpenText
Jun 01, 2021
Technology Industry

With digital insights into their assets, manufacturers can gain visibility and save money

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Credit: Shutterstock

Byline: Tom Leeson, Bob Slevin

Every manufacturer knows it’s important to have an up-to-date, accurate picture of its assets, from the smallest nuts and bolts to the largest storage tanks. But how a company tracks its assets is important, too.

With the right digital technologies, manufacturers can gain invaluable intelligence about every asset they own or manage via the Internet of Things (IoT). And by being able to intelligently track and trace those assets, they gain a wealth of benefits: reduced waste, lower costs, easier budgeting, fewer thefts and losses, and less downtime.

The current reality

During the COVID-19 pandemic, companies of all kinds discovered how digitally transforming could help them keep doing business, despite the need for social distancing, remote working and other precautions. For many manufacturers, the crisis also highlighted a long-pervasive problem: a glaring lack of visibility into their complex—and easily disrupted—supply chains. One big reason for that was the traditional dependence on manual and paper-based processes for tracking and tracing assets.

With businesses now in the early days of a post-pandemic recovery, the manufacturing sector sees digitalization as a way to gain the visibility it needs. This asset intelligence strategy uses a variety of technologies: temperature sensors, pressure gauges, Bluetooth beacons, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags and more. All of these can provide accurate and real-time data about an asset’s condition and location.

Building digital intelligence

The transformation journey will be different for every manufacturer. For some, it might be enough to simply be able to look at a dashboard and see instantly how many widgets are on hand at any particular location. For others, it might start with such basics and then evolve, adding ever-more capabilities. For example, by analyzing sensor data over time, a company could learn how to spot anomalies in the performance of an asset like a pump in a field. With this kind of awareness, the business could send a technician out for repairs before the pump malfunctions or fails, avoiding costly disruptions and unhappy customers.

Such transformations usually start small. With a sensor on every asset you want to track, you will begin to build a better understanding about that asset over time. Eventually, you’ll have created a complete digital image of the asset: a digital twin.

As more digital twins are built across your supply chain, you’ll gain access to even richer data insights about your operations—as well as those of your suppliers and customers. Even more benefits become possible if you can bring together all of those digital threads, analyze them and integrate that asset information with other enterprise systems.

It’s easy to imagine how this could lead to a true Industry 4.0 revolution, in which assets, factories and supply chains are all connected in a global-scale industrial grid: the IoT.

How to begin

So how does a manufacturer begin such a journey? It’s generally best to think big and start small. Begin by identifying a few use cases with the potential for quick wins. For example, one company we know of saw huge savings by gaining the ability to know where all of its pallets are at all times—because it no longer had to order more pallets unnecessarily or waste time trying to locate pallets when it needed them.

With a quick win on costs, you can then reinvest those savings in new track-and-trace capabilities. This kind of iterative approach helps to identify new opportunities and use cases over time. For instance, an oil company might start with the goal of answering just one question: ‘Where are all of my tanks?’ But after it’s developed a way to track the location of each tank, it might want to answer other questions, like, ‘How full is every tank?’ ‘What’s the temperature of the fluid inside?’ ‘Are there any leaks?’ and ‘Does this tank need to be replaced?’

As a company keeps building in this way, it gains ever-deeper insights into its assets. With continued study and analysis, it can create new models that optimize the performance of every asset across the supply chain. And with that, it gains the visibility that’s been lacking for so long.

Platforms for tracking and tracing

Manufacturers of all kinds can develop real-time, 360-degree insights into their assets through a platform approach that links the IoT with all of their other enterprise systems. For example, OpenText’s solutions for the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) give users visibility across their business ecosystem and integrates with other key systems for enterprise resource planning, warehouse management and transport management. This lets companies seamlessly combine industrial operations and processes with the lifecycle management of their assets—making it possible to optimize every element of the supply chain for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.

Looking ahead, manufacturers that adopt this approach will have a clear advantage in the marketplace, and supply chain partners and customers alike will notice the difference. We’re fast approaching a future in which the IIoT will be essential for doing business.

Asset Intelligence for Manufacturing from OpenText™ is the starting point for digital twin creation. Visit our website to learn more.

Bob Slevin is the Senior Product Marketing Manager, IoT at OpenText.

Tom Leeson is the Senior Industry Marketing Strategist, Manufacturing sector at OpenText.