Building the factory of the future today

Scalable IT architecture backbone supports digital transformation
by Michelle Cloutier
8-minute read

For the Reckitt IT and Manufacturing teams, Industry 4.0 is no longer a novel concept: the imperative to digitize and automate operations is driving change to outperform the competition.

Thanks to the near-ubiquity and availability of Internet of Things (IoT) sensors and networking, cloud technology and AI, becoming an Industry 4.0 firm is a reality for the CPG company that seeks to ‘heal, nurture and protect’.

Ben Ellins, IT Director for Manufacturing at Reckitt, says of this industry-wide sea change: “We are certainly going through the fourth industrial revolution within the supply chain and manufacturing space. All of the computer technology that has been employed within manufacturing for the last 30 years is now in a state where it’s reasonable enough to connect up and use the data a lot more economically and efficiently to drive improvements.”

Therein lies the rub for many firms — how to connect heterogeneous factory technologies with IoT technology, collect and make sense of the reams of data the machines produce, and then act on that data — usually through automation — to improve safety, productivity and efficiency.

Reckitt factory employee smiling under PPE mask

Anticipated

10%

reduction in maintenance costs and activities

With cycle-based maintenance, projected

3%

decrease in power consumption

Improved connectivity and rapid data visibility allow our excellent people to really understand and analyze our operations and how we can improve them. But individual insight is just the first step in this maturity curve. When we apply AI algorithms to the data, Reckitt will be better able to predict and plan for the future.
Ben Ellins
IT Director for Manufacturing, Reckitt Group PLC
A leaf with the silhouette of a factory cut out
Impediments to Industry 4.0 transformation
Reckitt factory conveyor belt with products

Reckitt is the company behind some of the world’s most recognizable and trusted consumer brands in hygiene, health and nutrition, including Air Wick, Calgon, Dettol, Durex, Lysol, Mucinex, Nurofen, and many more. With twenty million products sold daily across more than 200 markets, Reckitt is a truly global manufacturing firm. The company has grown through mergers and acquisitions since its beginnings as a single mill in the UK in 1819 and, as one might imagine, this growth has led to a disparity in the firm’s manufacturing IT technology and maturity.

Although Ellins believes the technology to connect and digitize Reckitt’s factories is both available and affordable, there is a great deal of work to be done to ready those factories for Industry 4.0. “We have a state that has proliferated over 30 years with factory-led local solutions that haven’t been maintained in the same way that personal or corporate computing is maintained, updated or secured,” he says. This has led to siloed data, different operating systems and a lack of interconnectivity across factories.

This creates a real challenge in driving consistency across Reckitt in terms of data management and availability. To Ellins, “Laying the bedrock of the standards around data and connectivity in the factories is really important before we can start exploiting the data.”

Technological maturity also varies across plants. Barney Carter, Digital Transformation Lead at Reckitt, has seen this firsthand: “Many of our productivity calculations are still done manually, relying on operators and their input. This has a direct impact on factory and company productivity.”

Factory employing checking off a list on a pad.
Factory employees wearing PPE looking at a digital tablet

Rather than relying on operators to read and report machine data, Reckitt is implementing technology to automatically get that data to the people who need it. Putting the right information into the right hands at the right time will help the company improve overall equipment effectiveness (OEE), energy efficiency and factory maintenance.

“We realized that if we could pull the information directly from the machines, we would improve the accuracy of our information,” Carter continues. “We would improve the amount of information we’re getting, and we would put less of a burden on the operators themselves.”

“I think one of the pitfalls of the fourth industrial revolution is what we call ‘pilot purgatory,’” says Ellins. “The challenge is that we’ve been implementing point solutions, at times for technology’s sake, and we’ve been looking to prove concepts rather than value.”

Tech transformation without “pilot purgatory”

To quickly overcome these obstacles and move toward a wide-scale digitization of its factories, Reckitt set out to build its “Factory of the Future,” implementing scalable solutions to drive excellence in manufacturing and bring contemporary digital technology to fruition. Instead of another pilot project to prove a technology concept, Reckitt wanted to invest in technology that would create value for the future.

Any technology investment would need to be re-deployable to other sites and applicable to a wide range of use cases. As part of its internal industrial revolution, Reckitt wanted data-driven, contemporary solutions that would help drive benefits from AI and machine learning as a company. Capturing, using, analyzing and sharing data would be critical to any digitally enabled factory.

Brown bottles on a factory production line
Mucinex boxes on the factory production line

“We are extremely data-rich as a business, and we use a very small amount of that data because of lack of access to that information,” says Carter. “We want to eliminate the need for somebody to go and dive into a spreadsheet to find information. We want to spend less time on data collection and more time on data actioning.”

Reckitt will need to move quickly, as manufacturing as a whole is on the Industry 4.0 trajectory. “We had a few audits and realized that we were behind where we needed to be,” says Carter. “When we realized we were behind, we didn’t want to just try to catch up. We wanted to leapfrog the competition.”

Jamie Barnes, Maintenance Team Leader at Reckitt’s Nottingham, England factory, recalls prior searches for a maintenance monitoring system. “Some systems we looked at had their own dashboard to give feedback to the engineer,” he says. “But they still required the engineer to use two systems. One to monitor the data, and another to create the work order, book parts and so on. We wanted a solution where this happened automatically and communicated with our SAP maintenance system.”

Reckitt also needed to address cybersecurity, an often-neglected element in the manufacturing industry. “Cybersecurity is something that the industry hasn’t really taken on board until recently, as we were reliant on standalone and local systems. However, the more we connect the more we put our estate at risk. Only last year, 50% of British small and midsized manufacturers were hit by some kind of cyberattack,” says Ellins. “Cybersecurity must be baked into everything we do to ensure the safety of people, products and consumers.”

Blue pills on a conveyor belt production line
Turning vision into reality with cloud and IoT
Reckitt employee in PPE using a large touchscreen

To launch its Factory of the Future, Reckitt tapped IBM® Global Business Services® as a trusted advisor to help it design, build and implement a scalable cloud foundation and data backbone that it could extend and replicate from its Nottingham factory to others around the world.

Reckitt chose IBM for its industry expertise, collaborative approach and flexibility. “IBM gave us the most freedom in the project approach, building the vision as part of the program as we went,” says Carter. That vision considered the wider manufacturing industry imperatives and Reckitt’s specific internal drivers and opportunities. “IBM melded them together and came up with the program itself.”

IBM and Reckitt together chose a winning strategy — a mix of IoT and cloud technologies based on Reckitt’s chosen Microsoft technology and Azure cloud infrastructure. IBM then used a proven methodology — its IBM Garage™ design thinking approach — that included everyone from the factory floor to the boardroom in designing the solution.

Carter recalls, “We really wanted to have the feeling that this was coming from the factory floor up and that it wasn’t an IT-mandated program change.” Approximately 25 people at all levels participated in the workshops, including joint sessions with both operators and senior management. These sessions were conducted in a hybrid environment of both in-person and online meetings due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which had an impact on the project even prior to its launch.

Reckitt employee a using digital tablet at their desk
Reckitt employee a using digital tablet at their desk

Reckitt initially approached IBM in November 2019 and was set to begin work in March 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic forced factory shutdowns and travel ground to a halt. It wasn’t until August 2020 that the IBM Global Business Services team was able to visit the Nottingham factory in person. Even then, the project team had to work in a hybrid manner, as travel from other countries and plant capacity remained restricted.

As Tom Woodham, Partner and Supply Chain and Procurement Practice Leader for UKI IBM Global Business Services recalls: “I was really impressed by the way that a largely remote team used online collaboration tools to work together to develop the solutions that the operators needed. Everyone quickly embraced the new ways of working to deliver the project goals.”

The winning equation: build, scale, repeat

After several design workshops, the IBM team created a transformation roadmap for the Nottingham factory. This would later evolve into a scalable template for other factory sites.

IBM deployed an enterprise data and architecture platform based on Microsoft Azure IoT Hub and Edge technology to serve as the data backbone for the Nottingham Factory of the Future implementation. This platform-based approach, considering data and connectivity as the baseline for all transformation and innovation, now allows Reckitt to more easily replicate digital capabilities across group factories.

“Having this consistent data backbone that we’ve established for Nottingham is very important,” says Ellins. “I can now pick that up and take it to another factory and say, ‘Here’s the data architecture behind everything that connects you to Reckitt’s cloud, and that’s the same as the architecture we’ve got in every other site.’”

A digital tablet with Reckitt data platform
Two Reckitt employees looking at data on a computer

Reckitt and IBM applied and tailored the solution for each of the three use cases: OEE, factory maintenance, and energy efficiency and sustainability.

To enhance and improve operational and manufacturing efficiency, Reckitt deployed its “Connected-OEE” solution, which automatically collects productivity data and provides asset monitoring of factory machines. Users now have information at their fingertips and no longer need to read the data manually; they can focus on continuously improving and reducing the top productivity losses.

When addressing manufacturing maintenance, Reckitt needed to move from a calendar-based maintenance schedule to a condition- and cycle-based model. “Previously with our time-based strategy, maintenance would trigger each week or month regardless of machine condition,” Barnes says.

The new connected maintenance platform pulls data from shop floor sensors to the cloud and sends the data to the firm’s SAP systems. Maintenance activities are then automatically triggered based on actual machine conditions — for example, the number of cycles the machine has run.

Reckitt also wanted to improve its energy efficiency by connecting its energy meters to the cloud platform. Now site managers can use dashboards to track energy use, spot trends or anomalies, and track their progress towards Reckitt’s ambitious sustainability targets.

The solutions are designed for ease of use and data visibility from the factory floor to the boardroom. And they’re meant to be replicated in other factory sites without further major infrastructure investment. “I think what we’ve done differently is created something we can scale. And we’re very confident that we can scale because we built this on a platform that we will use as a group,” Ellins says.

Two factory workers inspecting products on the production line
A new mantra: connectivity is key
Example of Reckitt data software

The Nottingham plant became Reckitt’s first operational Factory of the Future in May 2021. By June, the company was already projecting a reduction in plant maintenance costs of 10% and a 3% decrease in electric power consumption. And the increased visibility to its equipment data is already providing insight for root cause analysis that is expected to drive significant productivity gains.

“The improved connectivity and data visibility allow us to really understand and analyze what we do and how we can start to improve it,” says Ellins. “When we apply machine learning or AI algorithms to that data, Reckitt will be better able to predict and plan for the future.”

That planning starts today by improving OEE. Department managers and operators now have immediate access to machine data, and operators no longer need to input that data into spreadsheets, which then must be searched for relevant information. The data, which is automatically uploaded from the machines, is also more accurate and reliable. This trusted data allows managers to spend their time analyzing the operations instead of searching for information and verifying its validity. This will help speed decision-making and problem resolution, and ultimately improve productivity.

Moving from calendar-based to condition- and cycle-based maintenance is also expected to help Reckitt improve productivity and efficiency. The automated system only triggers maintenance events when set conditions have been met, such as when a condition moves out of tolerance or an asset has run a set number of hours. According to Barnes, “This will help us increase our engineers’ efficiency as they will only be working on assets that need attention rather than trying to complete all of the work orders for every machine every month.”

“The single data backbone also provides Reckitt with a path to machine learning and AI-based operations and maintenance,” says IBM’s Woodham. For example, data can reveal when a machine is likely to break down or when it needs immediate maintenance. “Machine learning algorithms can help Reckitt understand the data and start to predict where things are going to go,” he says. “Predictions can turn into system-directed instructions, and so rather than somebody seeing a problem and deciding what to do about it, they can use the data to decide what to do, and finally close the loop.”

Factory employee inspecting bottles
Factory employee inspecting a green bottle on the production line

This kind of predictive analytics could also be applied to the company’s energy management systems now that they are connected to the data backbone. Because Reckitt now has consistent data and plant-level views of its energy consumption, it can replace manual meter readings throughout its plants. This visibility would allow each factory to target areas for reduction to help meet the company’s overall sustainability goals.

The idea that “connectivity is key” has become a new mantra for Ellins personally and for the whole company. As it scales to other sites, Reckitt will build its solutions on the same infrastructure platform and data backbone. “Being able to say that we built a properly scalable data platform for our factories is a key point. And it’s going to keep adding, as well increasing, value as it matures.”

In implementing the Factory of the Future solution, Ellins also sees a convergence between IT and operational technology (OT) into a hybrid IT-OT infrastructure for the future. “As part of the Industry 4.0 transformation, we’re seeing how IT systems connect to engineering systems, and they’re speaking the same language.” This convergence also allows Reckitt to implement a solid cybersecurity environment that covers both IT and operational systems.

Ready for Industry 4.0
Reckitt employee using a digital tablet with a keyboard on the production line.

Reckitt is confident that it has built a foundation that will take its factories into the future of Industry 4.0. IBM provided the guidance Reckitt needed to design, develop and implement the solution on the Microsoft technology and Azure cloud IoT platform that Reckitt had previously chosen.

Carter appreciated the fact that the IBM Global Business Services team could work with other companies’ technology. “Despite the fact we were implementing Logix from Ilabo based on Microsoft Azure rather than IBM technology, we found expertise within IBM,” he says. “The people IBM brought in were very knowledgeable. And they had a good mindset.”

By selecting a core set of technology solutions, Reckitt will scale its Factory of the Future to other sites and continue to innovate on the same platform in its leading digital factories. “Now that we have this Industry 4.0, Factory of the Future architecture, we can iterate and expand on use cases with minimal effort. And we have the standard design, which is expandable and repeatable,” says Carter.

This repeatable and scalable architecture is ready to roll out to other Reckitt factories. “The Nottingham Factory of the Future is almost a beacon for the rest of the factories,” says Ellins. “We’re saying, ‘This is where we want everyone to go.’ We’re continuing the process and letting Nottingham lead the way.”

Importantly, although the Factory of the Future infrastructure is scalable and applicable to the three use cases in the Nottingham factory, each factory can adapt it to its own use cases and needs. Reckitt anticipates that each factory site will build on the infrastructure and innovate based on its own technical maturity. Those factories can in turn become beacons for other sites around the globe.

Ellins feels that Reckitt is well on its way to a next level of digital maturity and ahead of its competition with its scalable data platform. The Factory of the Future gives Reckitt the opportunity to bring its data and insight back into the production process.

“Eventually we will fully automate in some areas and use our connected data to adjust processes automatically, taking human intervention out of the equation,” Ellins says. “That doesn’t mean we reduce the workforce. It means we use our people for better things, things only people can do in driving improvement and looking for opportunities.”

Reckitt logo

About Reckitt Group PLC

ReckittExternal Link can trace its history back to 1819 and a mill built by two Reckitt brothers. Today, the company, headquartered in Slough, UK, produces health, hygiene and nutrition products for the global market. Although the company name may not be a household word, many of its brands are widely known, including Lysol, Air Wick, Calgon, Airborne and Strepsils lozenges. Reckitt employs more than 43,000 people worldwide and achieved GBP 13.99 billion in revenue in 2020.

Solution components
Reckitt logo

About Reckitt Group PLC

ReckittExternal Link can trace its history back to 1819 and a mill built by two Reckitt brothers. Today, the company, headquartered in Slough, UK, produces health, hygiene and nutrition products for the global market. Although the company name may not be a household word, many of its brands are widely known, including Lysol, Air Wick, Calgon, Airborne and Strepsils lozenges. Reckitt employs more than 43,000 people worldwide and achieved GBP 13.99 billion in revenue in 2020.

Solution components