By linking products, processes, infrastructure and people, the IoT is building a new era of smart and informed manufacturing, and the benefits of IoT are manifold. All components of the manufacturing value chain can drastically benefit from the penetration of digital sensors that allow high visibility and better control of manufacturing processes while also enabling the automation of tasks.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a crucial part of global industrial transformation, and the manufacturing sector leads in leveraging this technology.

As per IDC Data, the sector had invested $178 billion in IoT in 2016. Operations accounted for the main spending user case, followed by production asset management, maintenance and field service.

Analysts expect manufacturing to retain that leading position until at least 2020 for numerous reasons. IoT has the potential to bring another industrial revolution – Business 4.0 – with applications that bring rapid returns while enabling manufacturers to adopt digital transformation in various perspectives: automation, visibility, customer-centricity and reduced time to market.

Let’s look further at a list of the top six uses, applications and advantages of IoT from the manufacturing domain.

Quality Control

In a standard reactive quality control process, manufacturers produce an item, their quality control unit tests it, and they hope to catch and rectify the flaws before the product reaches the market.

IoT makes this procedure proactive with sensors collecting complete product data through different stages of a product cycle. Furthermore, the products can also be tested at each manufacturing step to check if their attributes are within specifications. 

In addition, instrumentation and monitoring of manufacturing supplies help quality control personnel to check if and where equipment calibration diverges from standard settings — such inaccuracies must be to avoid misalignment of products.

IoT’s support in tracking both equipment settings and the results of each production step provides manufacturers a stronger assurance of detecting quality problems at the source. Measures for improvement can, therefore, be taken in time.

RJ Corp, the largest bottler of Pepsi in India, utilizes IoT sensors to capture different data parameters necessary to gauge quality on a real-time basis. As the material gets prepared, deviations indicate a quality concern, and the machine can be stopped for immediate corrective action.

Inventory Management

Together with radio frequency identification (RFID), IoT makes inventory management an efficient and seamless process. Every item in the stock gets an RFID tag, and each tag has a special identification number (UID) comprising encoded digital information about the product. RFID readers can scan the tags, and the data extracted gets transmitted to the cloud for processing.

The role of industrial IoT here involves transforming the data acquired by RFID readers into useful business insights. It creates a record of the location of stock items, their statuses and their movements in the distribution chain and gives users comparable results.

As an example, as per the data on stock quantity and location, IoT-based inventory management architecture can help calculate the quantity of raw materials necessary for an impending manufacturing cycle. 

The outputs of IoT-based inventory management can be used in diverse ways. The system can send an alert to the users if any individual stock item is missing and can notify them when they have to replenish the materials.

Among the benefits of IoT is that it gives cross-channel visibility to supply chain managers with a realistic estimate of available materials, the arrival of new materials and work-in-progress, optimising shared costs in the value chain. 

By tracking the speed of movement and traffic flow of raw materials, manufacturers can be better prepared to receive them. This improves handling times and enables more efficient processing of those materials for production.

Predictive Maintenance

Traditionally, manufacturers have employed a time-based approach for planning the maintenance schedules of their machinery and equipment. But, according to the ARC group study, only 18% of equipment fail on account of age, whereas 82% of failures occur randomly. This demonstrates that a time-based approach is not efficient and may prove expensive in the long term.

Manufacturers can avoid such ineffective maintenance routines by leveraging industrial IoT and data science for predictive maintenance. 

By utilizing IoT sensors on the gear, they can track its operating environment and perform analytics using related data in the cloud to evaluate the actual wear and tear. Prompt service and repair enable more efficiency in the maintenance process, better allocation of work to field technicians and avoidance of downtime along with much more significant cost savings.

As an example of the benefits of IoT, steel plants have several furnaces using water cooling panels for temperature control. Any leakages from the panels can result in safety issues and production loss. 

When it comes to IoT-based predictive maintenance, plant managers can strategically identify anomalies and conduct a root cause analysis to prevent machine failures and delays in production.

More Safety in Operations

In combination with large data analytics, IoT also optimises the safety of workers, equipment and operations in a manufacturing plant. The benefits of IoT include tracking KPIs like employee absences, vehicle mishaps, machinery damage and any other mishaps that affect normal activities.

IoT wearables are critical solutions in this case. Employees using these devices can also be monitored continuously for their health metrics while working in factories and fields. It can help to understand their exposure to fumes produced in a process, stress levels, heart rate, fatigue and general movement. The information gathered can help business owners improve their compliance structure and reduce insurance costs.

If there are disparate suppliers and safety protocols and no standardisation, IoT can cause security concerns. To prevent their assets from getting targeted by malicious attackers, manufacturers leveraging IoT must link their operations technologies and IT infrastructure. 

They should also strategise their BYOD policies to regulate the interaction of personal devices with manufacturing operations. Support from the cloud and IoT services vendor is critical in this regard.

Smart Metering

IoT has also introduced the manufacturing sector, utilities and other industries to the world of smart meters that can monitor the use of water, electric power and other fuels. IoT sensors allow organizations to gauge the specific use and deploy practices for more effective usage of resources.

With customisable end-user dashboards deployed by IoT services vendors, manufacturers can comprehensively analyse the results of smart meter observation. They can also compare prices, efficiencies and the carbon footprint of alternative resources to incorporate improved options in their manufacturing processes.

Smart Packaging

Smart packaging that directly utilizes materials with embedded interconnectedness provides advanced benefits of IoT for manufacturers. 

A prime aspect of smart packaging is that it enables customers to engage with it, as well as generates data to handle a product more effectively. Smart packaging may manifest itself in the form of recipe videos, beauty tutorials and other demonstrations to explain the product usage.

IoT and packaging work together in different ways, such as sensors, QR codes and augmented reality/virtual reality/mixed reality options. The idea is to add value for customers and also collect data — via smart tracking — to further optimise operations and boost efficiency.

About the Author

Santiago Picco

Partner @ 4i Platform - Data Driven Innovation Electronic Engineering specified in control automation. Master in Stategic Management of Techology. Data scientist. Industry 4.0. IIoT and Digital transformation.

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