Since 2019, researchers with the IU Kelley School of Business have helped manufacturing companies in Indiana and around the world save millions of dollars and increase energy efficiency using smart meters. Now, they are expanding that work by helping companies digitize entire factories and warehouses – a move they say will ultimately make companies more competitive in the global marketplace.
“We are taking all elements of the factory, gathering data from multiple machines in real-time and digitizing the factory workplace,” said Amrou Awaysheh, an associate professor of operations and supply chain management and executive director of the IU Business Sustainability and Innovation Lab. “We are expanding our use of sensors and using artificial intelligence to drive predictive insights that help managers make informed decisions and identify direct actions that improve performance and output within their facilities. We want to help lighthouse manufacturers – ones leading the way in terms of AI and advanced technology – become more competitive and help others adapt to the marketplace a lot faster.”
Awaysheh and his team of 14 have worked with over 450 facilities globally over the last few years, with companies investing $24 million to date on projects. In that time, Awaysheh’s team has helped those companies save over $91 million, in the form of higher machine up-time, better employee productivity, lower resource consumption and higher quality products going out the door.
Companies have spent millions of dollars to install systems to collect and display data for their employees, and Awaysheh’s team helps them put effective managerial systems in place to turn this data into actionable insight and increase the return on their investment in these technologies. In Indiana, for example, they have worked with warehouses to improve the information provided to associates. This new managerial system leveraged the existing technology and helped reduce employee turnover, resulting in over $2 million in savings.
“It was great to work with Professor Awaysheh and his students,” said Yogen V. Uttarkar, Principal Lead, Product Sustainability at Amazon Robotics. “IU students came up with strong system-level solutions and helped us with the methodology to optimize material circularity with logistics-based emissions. This will help Amazon become both more sustainable and more competitive. It was exciting to be involved in this project where both academia and industry can benefit from collaboration. I will certainly look forward to continued engagement with IU team and Professor Awaysheh."
While the initial sensors Awaysheh’s team implemented were focused on energy consumption, this new work collects various types of additional information – ranging from employee performance to machine metrics that can determine when machines need preventative maintenance. That new data will be combined into a large repository used to build algorithms and predictive models that drive actions and change, and the researchers are looking at the best ways to display this information to employees within the facilities in real-time.
“Our repository of data on the digital factory – built from years of information gathering – helps us understand the relationship between raw materials, employee performance and motivation, energy consumption, quality of products and what customers are saying,” Awaysheh said. “It can take years for companies to build up enough data to drive insights that drive change, but partnering with us on this work saves them time and money since we already have the data that can be leveraged quickly. They can amplify their investment – and ultimately their impact.”
Data gathered through this work will ultimately result in additional research at IU, which Awaysheh said will be grounded in a real industry context. That opportunity is also a benefit to student researchers, who not only gain experience working with companies who may ultimately hire them post-graduation, but also with products and technologies they can use in their future careers.
“This project is a prime example of making public-private partnerships work, and it’s so exciting to use the knowledge and expertise that we’ve been able to amass over the last few years to work with companies all over the world,” Awaysheh said. “Creating a partnership between academia and industry allows researchers at IU to solve real-world problems using real data. This applied research helps put in place solutions that are rolled out immediately in industry, helping our partners build a competitive advantage.”