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4 Ways IoT Will Transform Manufacturing

November 29, 2018

IoT isn't just for consumer goods – it's chanigng the way manufacturing functions. Learn how IoT is making manufacturing more digitally savvy, efficient, easier to maintain, and safer. 

Classic manufacturing typically features a set of machines that must be managed by human workers. The equipment units are often loosely connected, but the data about how they interoperate isn’t transparent.

The era of Industry 4.0, however, offers a fresh approach to manufacturing. Industry 4.0 is a trend in automation that implies creating smart factories powered by digital technologies, such as IoT and cloud computing.

Most importantly, IoT allows manufacturers to monitor and manage not only the equipment or production lines, but also data about workers and their activities.

Spending on IoT is forecast to grow, with vertical-specific businesses expected to spend up to $863.66 billion on IoT by 2020.

Internet of Things spending is growing.

Source: Statista

You can use this article to learn about the 4 key areas IoT solutions are transforming manufacturing right now:

  1. Interoperability and insights
  2. Efficiency
  3. Predictive maintenance
  4. Worker safety

1. IoT Boosts Interoperability and Reveals Insights

Interoperability allows software systems to exchange data and use it effectively. IoT improves interoperability in manufacturing by building digital connections between all the manufacturing system parts involved in creating a product. “Smart” factories integrate IoT devices into their manufacturing equipment, allowing users to easily collect data.

IoT offers a wide range of device types to support tasks ranging from temperature control to anomaly recognition.

Smart factories represent the future of manufacturing and offer two significant benefits: equipment maintenance and decision-making.

First, IoT devices in a smart factory can provide real-time insights into the maintenance status of any integrated equipment.

IoT-enabled equipment uses Machine to Machine (M2M) communication to collect and share data about equipment performance. This data helps engineers measure and manage equipment performance precisely, allowing them to closely monitor the production process, and whether the whole manufacturing system is performing well.

Second, this IoT-based data supports fact-based decision making. Because IoT devices automate data-collection, decision-makers including field engineers, frontline operators, and managers can analyze past patterns to prevent critical failures.

IoT integrations make it much easier to collect data, enhancing maintenance and decision making.

2. IoT Improves Efficiency

Efficient factories are more profitable and less error-prone than their competitors.

According to a report by AT&T, only 22% of medium-sized manufacturers have deployed IoT solutions. As few as 4% of companies say they have a full understanding of IoT appliances.

IoT can improve efficiency.

Source: AT&T Business

The companies that have figured out how to harness the power of IoT connectivity can enhance efficiency – and reap the benefits of this competitive advantage.

IoT enhances efficiency by uniting production assets, as well as monitoring factory equipment and employees.

Two key areas where IoT can improve efficiency include:

  • Employee Management: Connected devices collect data from machines that are manipulated by workers, reveal workers’ productivity.
  • Inventory Management: Sensor-based appliances provide a real-time control over all inventory.

Today, industrial IoT solutions provide the tools to monitor equipment and workers’ performance. Decision-makers can view digital dashboards and automatic statistical and analytical reports to understand how their factories operate and identify opportunities for enhanced efficiency.

You can use data from IoT systems to answer questions such as:

  • What is the current stock of resources needed to produce products?
  • How many finished units has the factory processed?
  • Are the factory’s systems prepared to react to real-time problems?
  • Why are some machines idle, and how can this be prevented?
  • How efficiently are workers completing their tasks?
  • How do machines consume power?

These insights help decision-makers identify even razor-thin inefficiencies that can jeopardize profitability and the production process as a whole – even when patterns are too subtle for most humans to notice without help from IoT data.

For example, Elektra, a Swedish medical tech manufacturer, uses an IoT-based Connected Field Service. This solution provides uninterrupted cancer and brain disorder treatment for thousands of patients. Elektra uses IoT to increase equipment uptime, increasing number of issues solved without a technician by 20%.

Factories that use IoT-enabled devices will become more efficient, outperforming their competitors.

3. IoT Makes Predictive Maintenance Easy

IoT drives savings on factory maintenance by allowing specialists to monitor equipment autonomously and remotely.

According to a report by IoT Analytics, manufacturers will spend $10.96 million on predictive maintenance technology by 2022, including on IoT-enabled equipment.

IoT helps with predictive maintenance.

Source: IoT Analytics

For an example of successful predictive maintenance, factory leaders can look to Intel, which has already implemented IoT-based predictive maintenance. At Intel, equipment is linked by a network of sensors that gather data.

Next, Intel uses Machine Learning algorithms to analyze the data, slashing maintenance costs by 20% and reducing the time needed by 50%.

To replicate this success, manufacturers should invest in building their own IoT infrastructure.

First, a sensor or other connected hardware component is attached to factory equipment.

For example, a sensor might measure pressure levels and send regular reports to the equipment analysis system to track whether the equipment is perform well. If the pressure is inadequate, the system can automatically alert engineers who will eliminate the malfunction.

Factories can use this process to monitor energy, temperature, pressure sensors, and more, while making it easier for engineers to monitor the equipment’s technical performance and maintain the factory overall.

By automating key elements of equipment maintenance, factories can take a proactive approach to keeping equipment healthy.

4. IoT Improves Workers’ Safety

Manufacturing can present risks to workers' health and safety, and all factories should prioritize keeping their main resource – people – safe. IoT supports workplace safety by automatically detecting malfunctioning production lines or systems, helping keep people out of harm’s way.

If a manufacturing company doesn’t use IoT-enabled devices, it can also invest in devices workers can wear.

For example, Laing O’Rourke, an Australian engineering firm, hired Microsoft to develop IoT solutions that can keep its employees safe. Microsoft created IoT-equipped helmets for workers who deal with high desert temperatures. The helmets are equipped with sensors that track workers’ heart rate, temperature, and humidity levels, saving workers from heatstroke by warning them when they need to seek cooler temperatures.

IoT sensors prevent workers from risking injuries by alerting them to potential dangers before accidents occur.

The IoT Transformation Is Here to Stay

Manufacturers must adopt IoT solutions or risk falling behind their competitors.

With IoT sensors and devices, manufacturers can better capture and understand data on equipment, workers, efficiency, and safety, gaining a competitive advantage while producing better products.

According to the forecasts, manufacturers already recognize the value of IoT and plan to increase spending IoT technologies. IoT will continue to be a technology manufacturers must pay attention to.

About the Author

Headshot of Olga MoskalenkoOlga Moskalenko is a tech journalist at HQSoftware, a one-stop provider of custom IoT, AR, and VR solutions and related services. The company has already brought the purpose-driven software products to such eminent companies as HTC, Canon, Sega, Honda, BBC. Olga is ready to share the technological insights that the HQSoftware team unravels.