You likely keep hearing a lot about the internet of things (IoT) and how it will change the way you manage your equipment and facilities. Collecting and analyzing data will become increasingly important to manufacturing plans and activities. Data integrity and value will become critical to success in manufacturing, business, and safety.
So now is the time to build your confidence and understanding of your materials, technologies, and processes. Complacency is the single greatest risk of any IoT implementation.
I have heard many IoT presentations given by speakers who mention “our great data analysts” or “our huge database.” But not one has mentioned having confidence in their organization’s deep understanding of materials, equipment, and processes. “Data analysis” and “big data” may just be convenient talking points, but they also can indicate an unrealistic reliance on technology for its own sake.
American business history is full of epic failures due to complacency about information. Bad things happen when employees do what is convenient, or sometimes self-serving, instead of what is right. Too often, a simple review by a knowledgeable employee can prevent disaster by uncovering both malicious and lazy mistakes. Here are a few examples.
In the early 1960s, American Express lost half its market capitalization because it financed Allied Crude Vegetable Oil Refining Co. based on falsified documents. Allied claimed to have a massive inventory of soybean oil in its refinery and offshore in ships. Auditors verified the inventory, unaware that the inventory was a couple inches of oil floated on top of sea water.
Had the auditors actually done their homework, they would have known that Allied’s claimed inventory exceeded the total national inventory of soybean oil.
Enron and its certified public accountants at Arthur Anderson scammed investors of billions of dollars by fraudulently reporting financial activities, resulting in both companies going out of business. While you hear a lot about external threats to your data, internal personnel and third-party contractors are your greatest risk. History is full of stories about internal misuse of data:
A BP refinery in Texas City, Texas, exploded because a sensor reading was missed, and the sensor was inadequate for the risks posed by the fluids it monitored.
A sensor that monitored the levels of a volatile chemical was supposed to warn operators when the fluid level reached 2.5 meters in the tank. Unfortunately, the warning occurred during a shift change and wasn’t noticed. Also, after the level reached 3 m, the sensor no longer issued the warning.
As a result, a volatile chemical was released into the air, was aspirated into the combustion chamber of a nearby truck, and caused a massive explosion.
The failures of Boeing’s 737 Max are well-documented. In an effort to respond to competitive pressure, the company upgraded a 50-year-old airframe but tried to maintain the flying characteristics of the older 737s to prevent pilots from having to recertify. New engines needed to be repositioned, creating an issue with the plane’s aerodynamics.
Among the many issues that led to the death of hundreds of passengers and crew, these are notable for your own operations:
These are obviously extreme examples of failures caused by poor implementation, inadequate or failed monitoring, and intentional misuse of data. These failures, however, demonstrate that the consequences of complacency and inadequate training are not only real, but can be threatening to your business and your employees. When you implement IoT in your plant, your most important tasks will include training, planning, and ensuring the integrity of the data you use to support decisions.
By: Bill Frahm