Hardly any industry has been spared of the seismic effect of digital transformation. One of the disruptive innovations with versatile usage across fields – be it technology or healthcare – is the Internet of Things (IoT), which connects physical objects to the web.
However, due to the popular notion of IoT being consumer-focused — powering smart homes and similar gadgets — we have often failed to understand that the biggest impact may be in the so-called Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
In fact, various manufacturing innovators are already working to allow machines and equipment to communicate by gathering, receiving, and distributing information.
And with the arrival of compact and cheap sensors, together with high-bandwidth wireless networks, this has never been easier. Companies can leverage powerful analytical systems in workflows and utilize real-time data to significantly boost the quality of their products, while decreasing costs.
By 2020, it’s expected that more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some IoT element. In manufacturing, executives are likely to spend some $197 billion on the technology this year, demonstrating the extent the role that IoT will play in industrial processes.
Undoubtedly, IoT has the power to cut across all aspects of manufacturing while streamlining the processes. Blurring the boundaries between plant operations, supply chain, product design and demand management, it enables virtual tracking of assets, processes, resources, and products.
Let’s take a closer look into how the technology will be the foundation of manufacturing.
Giving devices the ability to transmit real-time data allows for better oversight over the production process. Each machine can be monitored and controlled remotely, with guiding protocols set-up in such a way to ensure the most effective usage.
This means that manufacturers are provided with diverse choices – from limiting energy usage to watching out for potential breakdowns. For example, companies like Senseye claim that they have to capacity to reduce unplanned downtime by half.
With the shift from reactive to predictive maintenance, smart sensors that are attached to the machine can analyze environmental aspects, including sound frequency, temperature, and vibrations. The corresponding condition-based alerts ensure that potential threats are mitigated even before they arise, prolonging the machine life cycle and eradicating any unwanted disruptions to the production.
Not only does IoT contribute to reducing machine downtime, it also radically transforms the traditional preconceptions about overall facility management.
While normally, checkups could be extremely-time consuming, IoT makes them simpler than ever. The never-ending cycle of manual maintenance is broken: engineers can receive notifications on their smart devices, summarizing all the necessary information about the issue and guiding them to where their attention is needed.
Workers can also use a wide array of wearable devices to support maintenance tasks: For example, DAQRI is developing smart wearable equipment, including glasses and helmets, that use augmented reality technology that allows workers to work alongside remote experts to deal with specialist maintenance tasks.
Improved Safety of Workers
One of the main benefits of IoT is that it can help prevent dangerous workplace situations altogether. Companies such as LifeBooster are developing industrial IoT setups that protect workers using predictive analytics.
Systems like these can be used for example to avert collisions, or analyse workers’ body movements to ensure procedures are being carried out in the most efficient way. Where dangerous situations are detected machines can be disabled or other interventions can be made.
Another benefit of IoT is that it allows for interaction with an object without actual physical interference. As workers don’t necessarily need to touch machines in order to use them, their safety is improved significantly.
For example, companies can deploy collaborative robots that can handle dangerous tasks that would otherwise pose grave safety risks to human workers.
Worker safety is of utmost importance: occupational injuries can be very costly – both in human and financial costs. In 2016, the UK-based Health and Safety Executive reported 19 fatal injuries and an overwhelming 60,000 non-fatal injuries at work.
Contact with machinery has been identified as one of the greatest threats, accounting for 18% of fatal injuries and 12% of non-fatal ones, at a total cost of over $700 million.
With an IoT installation in place, an environment that indicates a dangerous pressure condition, intense humidity, excessive noise and temperature levels, or the presence of dangerous substances, is immediately reported to operators, contributing to the eradication of the most common workplace hazards.
Likewise, we are likely to see connected wearable devices gradually becoming an integrated part of the worker’s attire. They have an indispensable role in preventing injuries and other tragedies, as they can monitor individual health and risk activities. Their functionalities can be industry-specific; for example, location trackers have proven particularly valuable in the mining sector.
Similarly, there are complex sensors and algorithms that can reveal signs of approaching microsleeps in workers or smart helmets that can transmit both the state of the worker and data related to their surroundings.
Enhanced Supply Chain Management
With IoT, supply chain management becomes more data-driven. Asset tracking can be enriched with new RFID and GPS sensors that can track products “from floor to store.”
At any point in time, manufacturers can use these sensors to access granular data, including temperature, storage conditions, the time an item has spent in cargo, or how long it took to fly off the shelf. This type of data gained from an IoT network helps companies get a tighter grip on quality control, on-time deliveries, and product forecasting.
This can also radically improve vendor relations. The partnership ecosystem is enriched by data, ensuring that all parties concerned have access to information about the product, which allows manufacturers to bring an additional layer of transparency into their processes and communicate with their suppliers and vendors in a more effective way. In addition, it is possible to recognize sub-par vendor relationships that may be costing manufacturers’ money.
Better management also permeates forecasting and inventory. IoT sensors and analytics can suggest the best optimization of inventories much more accurately than humans ever could.
In addition, by providing constant visibility into the supplies left in stock, planning for the future is built on exact foundations. This allows for the creation of more predictable and stable manufacturing schedules. For example, the technology oversees that products or materials are never out of stock, expired, or damaged.
Logistics structures are fortified as well. Enabling the construction of a dynamic, fully interconnected fleet, all your carriers – whether they’re shipping containers, suppliers’ delivery trucks, or vans – are linked. Operators can constantly safeguard transportation processes, locating problematic channels and leveraging the functional ones.
By receiving information about the physical state of each transportation unit, such as consumption, maintenance record, geolocation, weather, or delays, they can also develop robust risk contingencies and avert any potential unpleasant occurrence more effectively.
There’s no doubt that implementing IoT in supply chain management pays off: solutions like these helped Michelin reduce transit stock by 10%, increase Estimated Times of Arrival by 40% and reduce Out Of Stock situations due to exceptional circumstances by 25%.
There are various companies on the market, such as SigFox or C3.ai, that are developing comprehensive IoT-powered supply chain strategies to make sure that products maintain their integrity during every step of the logistics journey.
Regulated Production Flow Management
The high degree of interrelation, a characteristic of IoT, also enables manufacturers to monitor the production line from the refining process all the way to shipping. The vast amounts of data can help companies understand their business process better and indicate how to optimize operations further.
Moreover, manufacturers have better tools to keep a finger on the pulse of their production processes even in fast-paced and high-level settings.
If a machine is underperforming or brakes, the production flow can be immediately and effortlessly reconfigured to maintain efficiency. IoT solutions can analyze the current state of things and find the most effective solution, for example by increasing the load on another part of the plant.
Likewise, sensors can be used to measure benchmarks that determine the performance and durability of products even before their distribution. But quality control becoming a cornerstone isn’t by far the only benefit: With an analytical lens, manufacturers can compare projected operational goals with the actual results, optimize where its needed, and synchronize production with available resources and the business’ priorities.
The cross-channel visibility that IoT introduces also facilitates mass customization. By becoming a source of real-time data required for forecasting, shop floor scheduling, and routing, businesses can create products that fit the exact needs of a particular purchase, while retaining high production volumes. This means that industrial IoT offers a cost-effective mass production of customized products.
Just as other digital technologies applied in manufacturing, IoT ultimately strives to do more with less. Not only does this technology help optimize specific processes, its near universal applicability earns it a unique position of being a compulsory tool for more integrated and transparent manufacturing schemes.
Disclosure: This article is brought to you by a client of an Espacio portfolio company