The Internet of Things (IoT) has transformed the way the world works–from smart bulbs that light our homes to the trending Smart City movement that’s taking the world by storm. There’s no question that connected items are making our lives easier.

Shorthand for “anything that connects to the internet,” the Internet of Things is disrupting markets and permeating every corner of the world–from schools to airports to hospitals and so much more. One of the more profound applications of IoT can be viewed from the manufacturing sector –also known as Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT in manufacturing.

An ecosystem of sensors that collects data and translates it into insights used to optimize manufacturing operations, Industrial IoT has seen a significant uptick in recent years–and that trend is expected to continue.

According to Market Watch, the global IoT market is expected to surpass  $751.3 billion by 2023, representing a 23.88% increase from 2017.

IIoT in manufacturing is catching on. Today, IoT-enabled factories are accomplishing countless game-changing benefits, including reduced start-up and operating costs, increased productivity and efficiency, safer working conditions and more.

So how exactly does Industrial IoT drive the aforementioned benefits? 

IIoT in Manufacturing: Predictive Maintenance

Conventionally, manufacturers took a preventative approach to maintenance that included scheduled maintenance based only on the age of the operating devices and machinery. 

But according to research done by technology research firm ARC Advisory Group, equipment fails because of its age only 18% of the time, while the remaining 82 percent of failures occur randomly, rendering the time-based approach to maintenance ineffective and costly.

The current proliferation of IIoT in manufacturing has given way to a predictive approach to detecting and forecasting machine malfunction. Having the ability to store large volumes of data and run machine learning algorithms, IoT-based solutions can forecast potential hazards and predict when equipment will fail.

Production Flow Monitoring

To make sure quality is met, cost efficiency and business process optimization, a facility’s production processes must be continually and precisely monitored, controlled and adjusted–always. In a connected factory, whole production lines can be monitored. 

IoT gives machines an opportunity to talk to each other to self-coordinate and stagger production, thereby optimizing changeover times and finishing lots precisely without overruns or shortages. 

Additionally, at any point in the process, machine defects can be identified and registered, parts can be arranged and/or added into the production run, service calls can be scheduled and processes can be adjusted.

Quality Control with IIoT in Manufacturing

In a past life, manufacturers managed quality control on a reactive basis. If something went wrong with an item, it was up to the workers on the floor to (hopefully) catch it in time. But even the best assembly line worker is prone to error and oversight. 

They are, after all, only human. As a result, manufacturers were seeing high rates of scrap material with significant post-production rejects.

IoT changes that. At a smart factory, equipment is programmed to track the quality of materials, start looking for defects, analyze equipment performance in real-time and measure and test the finished product. If a problem occurs at any point on the assembly line, it can be addressed immediately.

On the human side, visual work instructions make it easy for employees to capture and share best practices for efficient in-process quality checks. This alone has been shown to reduce defects by as much as 95%. 

The combination of machine-equipped sensors that talk to each other and digital work instructions that support more efficient worker outputs ultimately prevents costly delays and wasted material.

Safer Operating Environment for Employees

According to a 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics report, the private manufacturing sector experienced a total of 5,480 fatal injuries between 2003 and 2017. Yes, cost savings and operational efficiencies are important, but the human factor is a significant consideration in manufacturing–one that cannot be dismissed.

With the advent of IIoT, manufacturing facilities have made significant inroads in protecting their employees. By way of smart, connected devices, managers can monitor the health and safety of the workers by tracking things like sickness and injury, absences, near-misses and machinery or vehicle accidents. If trends are identified, issues can be proactively resolved to help prevent future incidents.

Wearables have also taken off in recent years. Used to protect workers from on-the-job injuries, wearables are equipped with sensors that can track a worker’s proximity to machinery and alert both the operator and employee while he or she comes too close to the”danger” zone. 

Connected things can also be used to monitor the employees’ environment. For example, sensors can detect a gas leak that’s traveling through the pipes, before it causes illness (or worse).

Inventory/Supply Chain Management

One of the biggest challenges in inventory management is having just enough supply on the shelves without exercising or overstocking; it requires a perfectly timed re-order. The great news is this can be seamlessly achieved in a process that’s guided by analytics, insights and contextual intelligence.

Devices such as wearables, sensors and radio-frequency identification tags (RFID) deliver insights about where items are located, their status, movement and more. With real-time asset tracking, monitoring and alerts, warehouse and supply chain managers can monitor events across a supply chain.

Complete visibility into stocks facilitates more accurate estimates of available material, the work-in-progress and the estimated arrival time of new materials–which, taken together, optimizes the supply chain and cuts costs. 

Additionally, IoT can bring providers into the mix to facilitate a collaborative approach to supply chain management. By linking manufacturing facilities to suppliers, IoT enables supply chain managers to better identify interdependencies, manage material flow and fine-tune manufacturing cycle times.

Process Optimization

The culmination of all the above elements will naturally lend itself to more efficient operations management overall. The connected factory offers tremendous operational benefits across procedures –from machine performance, assembly line management and supply chain optimization to workforce safety, quality control processes and much more.

Even though machine-enabled sensors can track conditions, equipment and workflows for general process optimization, electronic work instructions assist operators do their jobs better, improve overall productivity and minimize downtime. In addition, increased process efficiency translates into reduced costs and ensures regulatory compliance.