The Internet of Things (IoT) sector is expanding rapidly in recent years. The benefits of IoT will change the way we live, learn and work. Combining connected devices such as sensors and wearables with automated systems makes it possible to gather data and learn from processes. “Platforms are the glue that holds the IoT together.” They allow users to realize the potential of the connected devices to truly reap the benefits of IoT. Using the power of the platforms, IoT can be transformative for businesses, letting them not only manage devices but also analyze data and automate workflow.
According to Gartner, by 2020 more than half of major new business processes and systems will incorporate some IoT element. It can be applied to any industry because of its versatile nature. By 2025 it is expected that the installed base of IoT devices will be over 75.4 billion (fig 1).
Figure 1: IoT connected devices installed base 2015-2025, Source: Statista as published on Forbes
What benefits does IoT bring to manufacturing? Here are five of them:
1. Reduced Machine Downtime
“Predictive maintenance utilizes data from various sources, such as critical equipment sensors, enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems, computerized maintenance management systems (CMMS), and production data.”
IoT is an enabler of predictive maintenance. Connected sensors monitor parameters from production machines and allow early identification of deviations in real-time, even before product anomalies occur. Real-time data from machines connected to the Internet and wearables enable service technicians to react in time to prevent malfunctions and downtime. Reducing machine downtimes leads to better utilization of resources. Unplanned downtime is not only costly but also time-consuming. The usage of wearables such as smartwatches, for example, the WORKERBASE one, can ensure quick troubleshooting by sending alerts to the right technicians who are in immediate proximity. In the case of WORKERBASE, existing infrastructure is easily integratable – ERP, MES, SCADA, PLC.
2. Increased Safety
What about hazards in the workplace? The International Labor Organization has reported that about 151 laborers face workplace accidents every 15 seconds. It is a scary statistics that affect workers all over the world every single day. Paired with a wearable device, IoT can actually increase safety. It not just about sharing urgent information but also monitoring risky activities that might lead to injuries or machine malfunctions.
Here comes an example from Australia. A construction firm uses IoT for smart helmets thus keeping workers safe. The helmet looks pretty ordinary on the outside but has sensors for data collection. The sensors monitor certain indicators – heart-rate and temperature of the worker as well as the outside temperature and humidity. All the data is uploaded to the cloud and then gets analyzed. If the data shows that the worker is at risk of heatstroke, the helmet emits vibration and a warning sound that the worker needs to cool down. The safety system also sends warnings to site managers that an employee is at risk and action needs to be taken.
3. Increased Quality Control
Quality matters at every stage of the production process. It leads to higher customer satisfaction and reduced costs. Products are inspected to confirm that they have, for example, the appropriate color and that there are no defects. Nowadays there is a huge variety of products which makes ensuring quality using traditional measures a cumbersome process.
Let’s take the automotive industry as an example. The preventive maintenance and early identification of malfunctions through machine to machine communication result in greater uptime, thus saving enormous costs for the manufacturer. For example, an automotive company saved 28,000 vehicles from recall before those vehicles hit the market. All thanks to an early identification.
“Combining artificial intelligence with other technologies like IoT and Virtual Reality offers us incredible possibilities to not just enable new levels of productivity, but also to ensure that quality is flawless.” Using sensors to measure benchmarks that determine the performance and durability of the products is essential to avoid defects and ensure quality.
4. Data driven Supply Chain
IoT is changing the status quo in important supply chain use cases – asset tracking, fleet management and tracing and tracking.
Asset tracking in real-time paired with cloud computing and data analytics can facilitate the creation of predictive models. Thus there is a higher efficiency in planning the stuffing as well as the availability of other assets – cranes and forklifts for loading and unloading of goods.
In the case of fleet management, cloud platforms use the data from the fleet, weather conditions and traffic models. The data is used to suggest the best route for the driver thus ensuring speedy delivery. The aggregation of data helps in the long run to optimize the fuel consumption, maintenance costs are reduced, etc.
Imagine a different scenario: a manufacturer receives the same type of pipes from two different suppliers. By scanning the pipes using a wearable device at the point of delivery, the manufacturer can easily save the data in a system and trace and track the origins of the pipe when needed.
IoT can be used through the whole supply chain – from warehousing through operations and retail to post-sales.
5. Improved Inventory Maintenance
IoT can also positively affect inventory maintenance. A product nowadays usually has a barcode or an RFID tag for identification purposes. Thanks to IoT there is an increased ability to track products and store as much data as possible – location, temperature, damage, etc. The result is avoidance of overstocks or stock shortages as well as increased efficiency.
In one case from the retail industry, G-Star Raw franchisee Denim Wall uses RFID tags in pilot stores in the U.S. “We saw that our stores continuously complained about poor deliveries, blaming the warehouse guys and the warehouse guys blamed the stores. The problem was inaccuracy in our inventory levels.” By implementing the RFID technology, they achieved a double-digit growth due to the increased inventory accuracy.
The advantage lies in using real-time data – a game changer. In the case of smart shelves, for example, connected sensors can deliver data and send alerts when a product is out of stock. There is the possibility to track other parameters customizable for different use cases. The opportunities for optimizing inventory planning become endless by using the power of real-time data.