What can manufacturers learn from the NFL about IoT?

The National Football League (NFL) is growing in popularity in the US and is starting to attract a large number of fans in the UK and across other countries too. This year marks the 50th year of the Super Bowl, the NFL’s national title, and in that short space of five decades, the sport has already started to surpass many of the UK’s long established manufacturing businesses in the way that it captures, analyses, and manipulates big data.

Over the last three years, different teams in the NFL have started to embrace and experiment with big data, utilising the Internet of Things to gather, analyse and assimilate data in order to make the sport more connected and exciting.

Teams have been installing sensors in stadiums and on players’ pads and helmets, in order to collect real-time position data, show where and how far players have moved, and indicate when a player may be starting to pick up an injury. This data is then projected onto mobile devices held by coaching staff, who can make immediate decisions on when to substitute a player, how to alter their team tactics to win a game and which players aren’t giving a game 100%. Of course, statistics and information are the Holy Grail for any sports team. How many coaches and managers call upon statistics to protect their players from criticism during press conferences? How many commentators take pride in telling the entire career histories of everybody on the field when they touch the ball? Sports analysts have been collecting this kind of data since the very first Super Bowl, but with the advent of IoT sensors and new analytics, they are now starting to quickly and effectively extract that data and use it to improve overall performance.

How is this relevant to manufacturing businesses?

Put your factory in the same arena as the NFL. While the NFL is installing sensors to monitor performance of players, are you installing sensors to measure the performance of your capital machinery, or robots working in the factory? By collecting performance data in real time and sending this back to a central system such as your Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) solution, you can start to analyse peaks in performance, find out which machines are operating to maximum capacity and even identify faults with robots before they begin to disrupt the production line.

It’s nothing that revolutionary to what your business is probably doing already. Traditionally, manufacturing businesses have always done one data run a day, often during the night. But with IoT sensors connected to your ERP system, you can do multiple runs of data in real time and analyse it as it is recorded, to improve the productivity of your machines and reduce costs where this data records inefficiencies. For example, you may have one machine in the factory that only operates to 40% capacity and another machine which does the same job, plus more, operating at 100% capacity, effectively removing the need for the inefficient machine. Turning the machine off, or selling it on, will not only save on running costs, but on energy and efficiency too.

For this to become a reality, ERP is essential for connecting this disruptive data recorded from sensor technology with standard transactional data that has long been running through your ERP system. For example, by monitoring the performance of machinery on the shopfloor, you can start to better plan for production schedules. It may be that, by increasing the use of one machine and operating it to a higher capacity than is standard, you can more efficiently and quickly complete a job for a customer that is demanding shorter lead times, adding value to your customer and also freeing up production to take on more work.

Using IoT as a game changing advantage

The use of this technology in the NFL is going to transform the sport altogether. As the data becomes more accessible, it can start to be used by more than just coaches looking to get the best out of their players. It will revolutionise the betting sector and make those shock victories that little bit more surprising. It will change games by helping officials make faster and more informed decisions and bring fans even closer to the sport in a way that has not yet been achieved in any other form of entertainment.

But what of the factory floor? It will have a very similar effect. Once this data becomes available to manufacturing and plant managers, they can start to align themselves even closer to customers and begin to really servitize their business model with IoT-based services.

Those sensors that you are fitting to capital machinery to improve efficiencies throughout production, can be fitted to your own products to measure their performance on behalf of your customer. You can start to provide your customer base with a service contract, rather than a product, and extract value from everything the product does. By collecting this information, you can start to understand before your customer, when your products need maintenance checks, when faults are about to appear and when they are operating to maximum efficiency. If you can identify this ahead of your customer and solve a potential problem before it becomes an issue, you’ll become an invaluable supplier to any customer, you’ll foster loyalty and you’ll start to grow your business through long term service contracts rather than one-off product sales, all thanks to how you utilise ERP for decision making.

IoT enables ERP systems to connect people, processes and data to increase automation, reduce lead times, improve responsiveness levels and enhance customer service levels. Just as the IoT is starting to make NFL a more fast paced, high octane and exciting sport, it’s doing the same for the UK manufacturing industry. You just need to decide if you’re going to make yourself available for selection ahead of the big kick off.