The Internet of Things in 2020: three manufacturing predictions

Tuesday November 13, 2018
Written by Kay Jenkins
November 13, 2018 – As a “do more with less” mentality takes over the factory, executives are pushing for greater visibility into every aspect of production, hoping to streamline processes and improve efficiency.

Many are turning to Internet of Things (IoT)–enabled technology, where the benefits now outweigh the costs. Discrete manufacturers are expected to spend $40 billion a year on IoT technology by 2020, up from $10 billion just three years ago, according to Statista.

So what will IoT’s capabilities look like by 2020? Let’s look at the three layers of manufacturing the IoT will revolutionize first: the assets, the production environment and the last mile.

Layer #1: The assets
The factory’s first aim is to ensure that essential operations are as protected as possible. That’s why factory IoT innovators started with devices that assist machines – the nuts and bolts of production.

IoT-connected sensors on factory equipment, such as motors, are helping to reduce downtime by enabling predictive maintenance (PdM). PdM uses data to determine the optimal time to service equipment – your team defines optimal conditions, and the sensors monitor for those conditions. The predictive analytics gathered can then alert workers to subtle changes in the operational environment before human senses will detect any anomalies.

What’s the value of adopting PdM? It’s about time, as PdM results in up to 70 per cent fewer breakdowns, according to Accenture. PdM takes factories off time-based maintenance schedules, sparing resources when fixes aren’t critical. And if an asset stops performing within optimal operating parameters (i.e., it’s overheating, or it’s vibrating more/less than usual), the maintenance team can replace it before it affects production.

If maintenance IoT data is not easily accessible at your factory right now, measuring operational IoT data is another good step toward adopting PdM. This may be usage data you already have available, like units produced or run hours, or it may be asset condition–based data you gather from routine inspection routes. Any data you have available, or can quickly gather, should be used as a starting point to help you fine-tune your PdM schedule based on actual operational conditions.

Layer #2: The production environment
Machines are the factory’s core, but they can’t run themselves. Now that PdM sensors are mainstream, IoT innovators are turning their attention to the second layer – the production environment, specifically working conditions and safety concerns.

IoT-enabled equipment is ensuring that employees can’t place themselves in unnecessary, dangerous situations. For example, IoT-enabled sensors can prevent production from moving forward if a guard isn’t operating properly, or prevent a forklift from turning on if the driver isn’t certified or hasn’t followed a start-up checklist.

IoT-enabled devices can also help monitor employee conditions to reduce bodily harm. One promising development at MIT: shoes fitted with IoT sensors located at major points of contact between the foot and the shoe, gathering data about the pressure applied on the foot when workers lift certain amounts of weight. In addition, IoT sensors in employees’ pockets could soon monitor air quality, radiation, water quality and hazardous airborne chemicals, helping factory workers remain alert if an area is too dangerous to enter.

Layer #3: The first and last miles
Once IoT improves all angles of production inside the factory, attention will turn to the elements impacting resources outside the walls.

Innovators will continue to develop and improve IoT-enabled devices that monitor the transport conditions of environmentally-sensitive products, such as foods, beverages, medicines and livestock, to ensure such products reach their destinations in optimal condition. They can also provide instant proof-of-delivery and track delivery progress.

IoT devices will also help account for what’s out of your control to ensure that products still reach their destinations on time. It will inform you how weather is affecting material transportation or your employees’ commutes. It will track illness in populations and whether you should expect more employees to call in sick.

It sounds like science fiction. It isn’t.
These technologies aren’t wishful thinking. Many of them are available today, and teams throughout the enterprise are starting to implement them; as the technology landscape matures, what isn’t feasible now will be within the next few years. Still, waiting to implement until there’s an IoT solution for every layer of the factory – or attempting to overhaul more than one layer at a time – is a mistake.

If you’re looking to adopt IoT in the factory, take steps now to make sure you’ll be ready to implement more advanced technologies tomorrow. One way to get started is to use data that you already have, without waiting on an ideal data set. Determine your major pain point, investigate IoT solutions and begin to implement. As you improve efficiency in one area, it will be easier to adopt more solutions and build a connected, productive factory.

Kay Jenkins is product director at Aptean, an ERP, supply chain management and customer service experience provider. 


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