IoT: How manufacturers can get started

Interested in exploring how a manufacturing operation can become IoT-enabled and the potential benefits of this technology?

The internet of things (IoT) is revolutionising the way businesses operate, helping them work smarter and more efficiently. Access to data is the key to garnering insights that can help your operation increase efficiencies and streamline operations, but you need to know what data to track and which processes need to be improved.

The IoT is simply shorthand for internet-connected devices – also known as smart manufacturing. Devices become ‘smart’ in the sense that they are online 24/7 and can be monitored and controlled. In the home, IoT devices can include a range of everyday items such as electricity meters, lighting, fridges, coffee machines and televisions.

Looking beyond the home at the commercial world, IoT devices can be incorporated or embedded into products, equipment and even processes. Incorporating the IoT into manufacturing operations creates ‘smart’ factories that can reduce waste, improve efficiency and increase output (this is sometimes called the industrial internet of things, or IIoT).

Applications of the IoT in manufacturing

IoT in manufacturing plants and processes can be applied to warehousing, shipping and logistics, transportation, assembly, packaging and document management. In these scenarios and settings, connected devices can provide real-time updates of process information, track incoming and outgoing goods, and monitor production – just to name a few.

The benefits of IoT-enabled manufacturing

The IoT is the next big thing in manufacturing – alongside analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence, with Bain & Company predicting the combined IoT market will grow to around $520 billion in 2021, more than double its 2017 value of $235 billion. Benefits for businesses that implement it include:

  • Greater energy efficiency with actionable insights down to a device level.

  • Predictive maintenance to improve efficiency and reduce unplanned downtime.

  • Improved quality control of products.

  • Enhanced performance monitoring of equipment.

  • Ability to resolve problems remotely.

Getting started with the IoT

First, prioritise and identify what business problem you have, the real-time data you need to analyse, and which processes could be improved by being connected. You can then create a pilot IoT application and test it to determine if it provides a return on investment.

Challenges to implementing and integrating the IoT in a manufacturing environment include resistance from staff who could view the technology as a threat to their jobs. The key is to be open about introducing any new technology and then educate employees about the benefits – even before you test it. The security of all your connected devices is another potential issue to cover, and should start with an assessment of your manufacturing environment, followed by a comprehensive plan to keep it secure.

IoT technology has the potential to give your manufacturing business a competitive advantage, allowing you to operate more efficiently and better serve your customers. But before all that, you need to determine the best way to integrate the IoT for the greatest return.