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Five ways IoT is transforming the manufacturing industry

The IoT revolution is changing the way companies around the world are doing business, helping them to work smarter and achieve better outcomes than ever before. There is no better example of this than what we’re seeing today in the industrial field: Manufacturers are now able to gather data from sensors and use analytics, machine learning and artificial intelligence to garner insights that can help them increase efficiencies, streamline their operations and identify new business opportunities. As the old models of production change, they make room for new emerging approaches, such as Industry 4.0 and smart manufacturing. Both focus on how manufacturing businesses can harness the power of digitalization to more safely and efficiently produce products, goods or services.

This trend is unlikely to change anytime soon. Research firm BI Intelligence expects the number of connected machines in manufacturing environments to swell from 237 million in 2015 to 923 million in 2020. As a result, industrial IoT has become its own phenomenon within the IoT landscape . As factories are now increasingly implementing IIoT solutions, here are five key ways we believe IoT will permanently change the manufacturing industry for the better.

Operational efficiency

For those not using IoT, there is little transparency when it comes to the supply chain process. Everything takes time, including checking each product as its being developed for quality and efficiency to meet required quotas and deadlines. Analyzing IoT data in real time allows a plant to work smarter, not harder. Visualization tools can also provide them with greater transparency into manufacturing processes, like the efficiency of employees, to provide a holistic view of how well their entire facility and production schedule is functioning. It also enables them to better monitor their assets and predict and prevent machine failures to avoid major operational issues or production delays.

Digital twins

A digital twin is a digital representation of a physical asset or system and is a core functionality of any IIoT platform offering worth its salt in the market today. At Hitachi, we call them asset avatars. Whatever you want to call them, they provide enormous benefits to manufacturers.

As a complete replica, a digital twin offers limitless possibilities to factories, such as using simulations to test a physical asset’s lifespan, finding methods to develop better versions of the product or looking for inefficiencies that can be addressed. Plants no longer need to wait for a product line failure to occur because with digital twins they have the ability to forecast when a physical asset is due to have an issue. The physical assets being replicated today can range from airplane engines to wind turbines; any type of machinery, regardless of size, can be mapped and analyzed in a safe and controlled environment. By mitigating product defects and failures ahead of time and keeping plants functioning efficiently, factory managers are able to ensure they can meet required deadlines and forecast their output appropriately.

Early detection for quality management

According to TechRepublic, “At Tata Power in India, there was a gas turbine early warning that saved the company nearly $300,000 after employees realized one of the bypass valves of a low pressure heater was partially open when it should have been completely closed.” The only way to get an early warning such as this is through the real-time monitoring that IoT provides, so those in charge of monitoring the plant know exactly how their systems are functioning every second of the day. The gas turbine in this case immediately reported information back to Tata Power so it could make adjustments quickly, otherwise the issue would have only have been discovered when there was a larger problem. IoT is making the promise of predictive maintenance a reality.

This is an extraordinary change for manufacturing companies which previously would have to discard equipment and ruined products when issues would arise. Today, IoT sensors and advanced analytics are making it possible to detect even the smallest error or defect during production, manufacturers have more control of their output and it allows them to more easily meet their production goals overall.

Autonomous self-healing systems

Currently, most manufacturers address production issues or equipment failures as they arise, which takes time, money and skill. With IoT and machine learning, systems can now be automated to intelligently identify and address issues on their own without the need for human intervention. According to Internet of Business, “Florida-based electric power holding company Duke Energy claims it has created a self-healing grid system to automatically reconfigure itself when you lose power in the home.” The implications from self-healing technologies on manufacturing will allow staffers to work on other mission-critical issues as many of the machines take care of themselves, while saving on unnecessary costs.

Improving safety

Anyone in manufacturing knows safety is always a top concern, and companies are always looking for ways to improve. With IoT sensors and connected devices, early detection of malfunctioning systems can help prevent injury to employees that would have otherwise been unaware of the situation. IoT makes it possible for companies to monitor in real time, through video analysis or by equipping employees with sensors that offer a variety of readings to detect and flag an anomaly the second it arises. For example, in Australia a construction firm with employees working in the sweltering desert use smart helmets to monitor each employee’s temperature, heartrate, humidity and other pertinent readings to help them avoid heatstroke, since “by the time you feel the symptoms, you already have it.” IoT extends the ability of employers to protect their employees and provides employees with the additional layers of safeguards and security in nearly any given situation — from the factory floor to the Australian outback.

These are only some of the ways that IoT is impacting the manufacturing industry today and helping businesses to achieve the better outcomes. The IIoT revolution is only just beginning, but it will be exciting to see how it continues to evolve our world as it advances.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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