The Mysterious Benefits of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)
We’ve been hearing that the IIoT will make everything better for manufacturers, and that once it takes off it will have as great an impact as the Industrial Revolution. But what are the actual benefits, and how exactly are they accomplished? Let’s get real, and list the many practical benefits of adopting an IIoT strategy.
“First Mover Advantage” is Not What We’re Talking About
Transitioning into the IIoT is not solely about creating new products, although that is the goal of some adopters. Being first, when well strategized, can have excellent short-term and/or long-term benefits for your business. So what makes investing in the IIoT different? The risks associated with “being the first” are mitigated in more ways than one:
- IIoT is about improving what you already have
- Real-life case studies demonstrate smooth IIoT POCs
- Insurance packages reduce the risk of investing in the IIoT
New revenue models may turn out to be a side effect of your investment in the IIoT, but there are also other clear advantages.
“Digitize or Die” matters for SMEs - not just enterprises
Manufacturing, globally, is the domain of small and medium businesses. It is these SMEs that will be leading the conversion to digital in manufacturing. Let’s remember a famous example of how an industry was fundamentally changed with digitization. The digitization of the music industry led to the downfall of those companies who refused to change. It wasn’t just that they weren’t trying to innovate - the market demanded that they change, and they refused.
This should be an uncomfortable reminder that we cannot always predict how supply and demand for products and services will change when brand new technologies become available. There are clear trends across manufacturers in terms of the adoption of the IIoT, along with verified business intelligence reports from multiple respected organizations:
So, now that we’ve talked about risks of not paying attention to the IIoT, let’s look at the real possibilities for manufacturing.
Real-time product tracking
Real-time product tracking gathers a full set of data about a product as it moves through the production line, and the ensuing supply chain logistics, if desired. The seamless data that this generates simplifies pinpointing where improvements can be made.
Automated inventory tracking and ordering will significantly increase efficiency. Essentially, guesswork and estimations of materials will be reduced to a razor-thin margin of error.
Manufacturing connected products
The products you are making can be upgraded to being “connected”. This means that your products will have internal sensors that collect and display information for your customers, improving the user experience. You’ve probably seen it a lot in car manufacturing and home appliances - you can do this too.
Previously, custom manufacturing was seen as an unprofitable offering that only specialist manufacturers or large manufacturers could take on. The IIoT could make offering custom manufacturing jobs something worthwhile you can offer. With sensors attached to individual components along the production line, containing the specifications, much of this process can be automated - and therefore scalable.
Unplanned downtime is a productivity killer. The IIoT allows “predictive maintenance” - a rule-based system that, after analyzing data from historical stoppages as well as real-time data, allows maintenance to be carried out when it is really needed. This is far more efficient than effective than standard maintenance schedules, which may or may not fix a problem.
This ties in very closely with the principles behind downtime prevention. Being able to tell exactly when a catastrophic failure is likely to happen, rather than guessing or allowing it to happen, is far better for the safety of your employees. It also means that the chance of your machinery being exceedingly damaged - or destroyed - is minimized.
Both downtime prevention and safety contribute to cost control. In addition, cost control is achieved when specialist personnel are not required to be hired for maintenance when it is not needed. Also, the costs of ordering and storing spare parts that may never be used are reduced.
Anomalies are data “exceptions” or “outliers” – basically, something out of the ordinary has happened in the manufacturing process. Anomalies are important to record, as they form the basis for being able to predict how and when something is about to go wrong. Anomalies can be detected when unexpected or unexplained changes occur in a regular data flow. This data can then be separated, analyzed, and correlation/causation established.
The IIoT does not mean you have to invest in brand new machinery. Retrofitting involves adding sensors to your existing setup, and getting the data streams functioning correctly. Another way to explain it is that retrofitting makes your machines “smart”.
Many of your machines have sensors in them already. And perhaps you have teams that already use data from them. However, it is unlikely that all of your sensors have their data aggregated into a single place for analysis. This is where IIoT middleware platforms come into play. Unless you have the resources for a dedicated team to build a proprietary platform, you will need one of these. There are now plenty on the market to choose from.
Data Management Services
A robust IIoT system will generate a vast amount of data over time. This data is valuable for discovering trends and analysing long-term performance. As such, a suitable database is an absolute requirement. Whilst some manufacturers opt to maintain their own databases, most use a data management service. Most middleware platforms also offer this service, or can assist you in finding one that meets your IIoT needs. Security and reliability should be top of mind when making this choice.
Scratching the Surface
Hopefully, some of the uses of IIoT listed here have inspired you to seek out further information. More and more manufacturing events have IoT or IIoT vendors - go seek them out, and find out more about the benefits for your unique business. If you want to really get into it, there are entire events dedicated to this technology. Why not read more before signing up to an event? You can find out much more on this comprehensive list of the top 20 online publications for IoT news.
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