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Capable leaders know you have to look beyond outward results to capitalize on new opportunities. Adopting technologies like the Internet of Things, or IoT, is a good example. Even though you might have a strong feeling that connected computing could make your business more successful, you’ll need more than hunches to get other stakeholders on board. Fortunately, the proof isn’t in short supply. With millions of established use cases and growing, IoT-powered manufacturing is an easy sell for those seeking to improve their business models.
Why do you see more of the IoT in manufacturing on a daily basis? We’ve uncovered some answers that clarify how this powerful force for change has realigned long-held perspectives.
You can find early evidence of the IoT’s potential as a fabrication powerhouse in a niche historical case. The first piece of non-computing hardware to break the traditional boundaries by jumping onto the web was a conventional vending device at Carnegie Mellon University.
A grad student with a penchant for tasty drinks added a custom circuit board to an existing soda machine. The upgrade monitored the vending machine’s status lights and posted its findings to ARPANET. By checking his program, he could find out not only when the device was out of his favorite beverages but also whether those in stock were cold.
Why is this such an excellent example of the spirit that defines the IoT in manufacturing applications? Although you can easily go out and buy connected coffee machines and fridges for your office nowadays, the original soda machine exemplified some fundamental tenets that continue to dominate IoT manufacturing applications:
• Facilitating oversight: Adding IoT capabilities to hardware can increase convenience and centralize control. Here, the grad student didn’t have to leave their office on unnecessary trips to the break area.
• Augmenting capacity: IoT upgrades may imbue hardware with entirely new, utility-enhancing functions. In this case, the vending machine’s manufacturer didn’t intend the control circuitry to do anything but accept coins and show when the device was empty.
• Dealing with uncertainty: The IoT is ideal for devices whose status depends on unplanned local interactions, such as when some faculty member randomly bought the last soda.
The Carnegie Mellon soda machine wasn’t the last connected sustenance device. From toasters and coffee pots to refrigerators and water fountains, more IoT examples followed as society fell in love with the possibilities.
The launch of smartphones and the expansion of wireless networking marked a sea change in how manufacturers leveraged these ideas. Although governments and the business sector had already expressed interest in getting better connected, the proliferation of mobile hardware showed that independent, consumer-grade devices could be sustainable and robust under fire. Combined with the concurrent spread of modern information science practices, such as using cloud computing and AI to process big data, the flowering of mobile devices set the stage for IoT implementations that made convenience a priority instead of an afterthought.
Today, you can easily set up an IoT in manufacturing settings and use it to manage, analyze or control your plant. What’s more, there are fewer limits on how you leverage technology. You get to choose whatever works best for your enterprise:
Manufacturing processes depend on massive supply chains that are hard to control, let alone conceptualize. Smart fabrication technology powered by the IoT makes it easier to manage inputs to ensure output consistency. For instance, you might implement alert, intake, quality monitoring or automated shutdown features that agilely respond to situations like hazardous plant conditions or even customer preferences.
Process governance helps companies keep manufacturing systems running correctly. The IoT’s centralized layout goes beyond mere convenience by streamlining monitoring practices. Since overseers don’t have to leave their workstations as frequently to check on things or intervene, they fall prey to fewer blind spots. Connected devices also help manufacturers expand their oversight practices by letting them wire up hardware systems that formerly went unwatched.
The IoT doesn’t just link machines together. It also helps manufacturing stakeholders and departments become better team players. By enabling practices like digital order customization and lifecycle monitoring, connected devices cost-effectively transform companies into well-oiled machines with stronger public-facing profiles.
Manufacturers stand to learn a lot by using custom IoT implementations for fabrication machine monitoring. According to one study, these applications might be responsible for productivity boosts of up to 25 percent and trillions of dollars in worldwide economic gains.
While your mileage may vary, the theoretical basis for such assertions is more than sound. Applications built to watch hardware performance and track custom indicators enhance control, making it easier to optimize parameters such as power consumption, resource use, and scheduled maintenance needs.
Manufacturers have long relied on cameras and other sensors to reject bad products. The difference now is that these systems are no longer limited to “dumb,” one-size-fits-all implementations. Instead of having to program a range of acceptable product colors and hope that your camera doesn’t mark too many usable items for removal, you can connect it to a machine learning system that looks at all of the factors intelligently. This reduces the margin of error for determining whether the production line is running correctly and eliminates waste.
One unprecedented use of the IoT in manufacturing involves monitoring workers, but this doesn’t just entail trying to keep people on task. Health and safety practices are advancing by leaps and bounds as companies study heart rates, movement habits, and body temperatures to tell when someone gets injured and needs help. Fabrication is getting safer, and we have computerized systems to thank.
The manufacturing world is a study in contrasts. Traditionally, adding monitoring steps to a process was a catch-22 because the more you intervened, the more likely things were to deviate from typical conditions.
Today, the amount of uncertainty involved in production analytics is way more manageable. IoT devices and networks send back data regarding processes of interest, but they also reveal a lot about themselves. When a feedback system generates a continuous record trail that lets you know how efficiently it’s performing, it takes the danger out of basing decisions on the information.
Manufacturers that want to thrive in the modern world increasingly need to innovate new business models in anticipation of uncertain market factors. As automated fabrication devices, such as 3D printers, become more commonplace, the archaic oversight patterns and workflows of the past become less appropriate. Modern industrial systems generate far more data and boast significantly more advanced onboard capabilities than their predecessors. They need to be partnered with monitoring and control backends that can keep up.
The best argument — and explanation — for the IoT’s place in manufacturing is that the Internet of Things doesn’t make any demands of your business processes. You don’t have to get locked into using a specific vendor’s software or even go with a particular type of monitoring hardware. For the thousands of manufacturers that earn their bread and butter by creating novel intelligent devices, the unprecedented chance to design their own custom business machinery makes complete sense.
Want to know how to create your own IoT manufacturing applications? As recognized industry leaders, we’d love to help. Talk to a Davra data scientist about executing a smarter fabrication strategy.
Brian McGlynn, Davra, COO
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