Smart Sensors: Manufacturing’s Cure-All?

Smart sensors are the heroes in manufacturing’s rekindled evolution, Mark Humphlett recently told Manufacturing Business Technology. Thanks to these remarkably small, highly flexible, highly-versatile devices, manufacturers can now capture, communicate, and harness unprecedented levels of data and business intelligence. It’s a whole new world in manufacturing and we owe it to the miracle cure-all sensor devices that can be as small as a pencil eraser and cost less than a dollar each. It almost sounds too good to be true.

Maybe it is too big of a claim to be truly realistic. Can the use of smart sensors suddenly increase margins, improve customer satisfaction, stock the warehouse and keep shop floor assets from failing? Yes. And No. Although it is tempting to assume sensors can solve all of the vast issues manufacturers face, a degree of caution, a dose of reality serum, and some old-fashioned strategic thinking and hard work must go into the process. There is no short cut. No easy button.

Click here to read Mark’s complete piece here on the Manufacturing Business Technology webiste.

We often look for the miracle cure or the silver bullet that will solve all of our “ailments” with one simple step. Some call it optimism. Others would say it is blind naivety that allows so many of us to fall prey to “too good to be true” deals. Even the highly educated technology-enthusiast can be blinded by vague promises and “next revolution” double-speak.

It’s comforting to think adding some smart sensors to the shop floor will suddenly lead to greater profitably, happier customers, wider market-share and more productive assets that never fail. This seems to be the overly optimistic assumption of many manufacturers as they fumble with concepts around sensor technologies and Internet of things strategies. The low cost availability, ever-expanding capabilities, shrinking size, and increasing material flexibility can truly be mind-numbing and lead the manufacturer to “hope for the best” as they jump into the deep end of the technology with both feet, big budgets, high hopes and no life preservers.

While “There’s an app for that” was the mating call of IT vendors seeking users in the last decade, now the new resounding cry ringing through the IT wilderness is “Slap a sensor on that!” Far too often manufacturers are falling for the quick-fix mentality. They think they can add sensors now — then decide how to use the data later. A hastily crafted plan for storing the data may be an after-thought too.  Such haphazard thinking seldom ends well, yet many of us have fallen into this “boldly following” syndrome where we accept prescriptive advice from experts without truly understanding the issues. Data=Answers, we want to believe.