The past was all about connecting people and allowing them to share their ideas, experiences, and memories with others all around the world. However, the future will focus on enabling machines and computers to communicate using cloud connected IoT devices, thus creating a smart factory. This will allow for the automation of product creation and delivery. 

Manufacturers are embracing IoT’s potential. Moreover, 67% of manufacturing companies have an ongoing smart factory initiative. A smart factory connects systems and devices, and these use data to generate actionable insights. 

Potential Becomes Reality

The most important aspect of IoT’s potential value is its ability to optimize operations. IoT can transform every aspect of product delivery and development, from the factory floor to value chains. For instance:

  • Factory machines can use machine sensors to reduce water and energy waste. This results in lower costs and more sustainable operations. 
  • Manufacturers can easily feed data from other systems and devices feed data back into their production lines, this allows them to make improvements within days or hours. 
  • Plant owners can automate inventory replenishment by using better asset tracking and sensor-based alarms. 
  • Manufacturers can detect potential equipment failures before they occur, this protects employees and minimizes unplanned downtime. 

If one were to make predictions regarding the future, bets would be on the fact that IoT could fundamentally transform not only the computer industry but also society. 

Right Infrastructure Needed 

There are many possible uses of IoT in manufacturing. Once the infrastructure is in place, herein lies the problem. 

In the past, information technology (IT) used to be a separate field, with experts who had limited knowledge about each other’s needs.  

The success of IoT requires this siloed approach to be replaced and discarded by a unified infrastructure which treats all elements of IT as complementing cogs in the same process wheel. 

Security is an even more pressing issue for IT and OT (Operational Technology). Hackers, hostile governments, and other competitors could gain access to sensitive information and disrupt operations if the many connected devices and systems were not properly secured. Manufacturers need to create an infrastructure that bridges the gap between OT/IT while minimizing security risks. 

Unplanned Downtime History 

Downtime is always a problem from an operational standpoint. IoT allows manufacturers to minimize downtime through real-time visibility of each machine in the factory. 

Also, manufacturers can monitor and analyze machine failure parameters continuously once they have connected all machines to one management platform. These parameters can be useful to track abnormal and normal states much more precisely. This allows manufacturers to prevent problems from occurring, thereby saving time and money. 

Both data collection and data analysis create patterns. These patterns can be quickly fed back into the manufacturing process to improve manufacturing and maintenance efficiency and optimize future component and machine purchases.  

Secure an Expanded Attack Area Surface 

Factory systems have always been closed systems, so protecting them from internet-based attacks is not an important priority. Many OT systems were isolated from IT to minimize disruptions in operations due to potential vulnerabilities. 

This siloed approach is hindering the implementation of IoT at factories. Effective IoT implementations need greater OT integration and connections to third-party data sources, systems, and analytics platforms. 

A fully connected and integrated infrastructure is essential for building a smart factory. Connecting machines to the internet directly or indirectly or to private cloud environments increases the attack surface.  

This means criminals have more opportunities to exploit the internet for espionage, vandalism, or terrorism. Machine damage, worker injury, theft of intellectual property, and disruptions both in production and in supply chains are all among the possible risks. 

Smart Factory of the Future: a Reality Today?

When people talk about how IoT impacts manufacturing, they really mean that connected devices collect massive amounts of data every day. Then, artificial intelligence’s applications allow for the uncovering of hidden patterns and the attainment of new insights. 

Ultimately, smart factories will enable manufacturers to mass produce more goods at lower prices and with fewer defects. As we move towards a personalized and data-driven future, smart factories will make products that are unique for each person. What are you waiting to turn your plant into a smart factory?

Tagged in: