The Internet of Things (IoT) and Big Data form the perfect marriage in the manufacturing industry. Big Data allows businesses to collect infinite amounts and types of data about their processes while the IoT permits machine-to-machine (M2M) communication through connected devices, which streamline the supply chain and reduces the potential for human error.
As both Big Data and the IoT become more refined, the manufacturing industry will benefit even more from this technology. Manufacturers will automate their most repetitive, time-consuming processes and create new applications for M2M technology. What else does the future hold for these exciting innovations?
Industry Week reports that smart manufacturing holds the keys to the kingdom for this industry. Supply chain visibility will allow manufacturers to scrutinise every step on the factory line, condensing their viewpoints from batches to units. This increased visibility will allow managers to make minute changes to their processes to increase efficiency, productivity, and product quality.
More importantly, this visibility will occur in real time. Management will not have to wait until the end of the month or quarter for data to roll in. Instead, machines will transmit data minute by minute so that managers can make appropriate changes earlier. The faster manufacturers can execute changes; the more money they will save.
Automation remains key to leveraging the IoT in manufacturing. Industry Week points out that many companies have already started this process with tremendous results. For instance, Germany-based Siemens has converted their electronics processing plants to accommodate machines and computer systems which handle 75% of the value chain.
Smart manufacturing offers another important benefit: it reduces human error. When people perform repetitive tasks throughout the supply chain, the potential for inaccuracies and mistakes increases exponentially. Machines offer far more reliability in terms of repetitive tasks; this allows companies to reduce the man hours for which they must pay and to decrease mistakes on the factory line.
While this might seem like a bad thing for the manufacturing workforce, it could actually create jobs — albeit in different arenas. Instead of operating and performing repetitive tasks, employees will manage the machines that perform them, optimising their output and carrying out maintenance and repairs.
SAS identifies five significant challenges for Big Data collection and analysis. Chief among them is “meeting the need for speed.” Companies must collect and analyse data as quickly as possible if they want to retain their value propositions and compete against other manufacturers in their industries.
The IoT will play a critical role in helping manufacturers meet this challenge. As devices become more sensitive and sophisticated, they collect data faster. Furthermore, they can transmit data from one machine to another, which means that everyone involved in the supply chain can visualise those numbers and act on them appropriately.
Additionally, SAS points out that it’s difficult for companies to analyse and apply Big Data with the current array of software and hardware options. Businesses can generate billions of pieces of data in a single day; they must then figure out how to apply that data to their manufacturing processes. This requires extremely powerful, intuitive software that can process tremendous amounts of data in short periods of time. Over the next several years, software manufacturers will produce systems capable of handling the load.
Manufacturers must also assess data quality to ensure it offers an accurate portrayal of reality. Inconsequential or misleading data can lead to supply chain mistakes that threaten the integrity of the factory and warehouse environment, which could ultimately lead to lost profits and increased worker frustration.
Between 2014 and 2015, UK companies lost over 4 million working days due to workplace injuries, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Although fatal and non-fatal injuries are on the decline in the UK, worker injuries lead to lost revenue, potential litigation, and other complications for manufacturing businesses and other companies. However, the IoT and Big Data could reduce these numbers significantly through smart technology and devices.
For instance, smart sensors applied to manufacturing equipment can transmit data about a piece of equipment’s condition. Over time, these sensors collect data about breakdown rates and other issues that impact maintenance and repair.
Since large machinery can cause significant injury to workers, and because the manufacturing industry relies on heavy equipment, it’s essential to ensure that every machine remains in top running order. Big Data can work seamlessly with the IoT to reduce breakdown rates and create safer work environments.
The IoT is also capable of collecting and analysing data about workers themselves. Data concerning the number of workplace injuries that take place during a specific process, for instance, can lead to supply chain changes that decrease the potential for injury and keep workers safer.
Each of these developments will ultimately save companies money. Businesses that do not have to pay for constant maintenance and repairs or sacrifice working hours and other costs related to injuries will benefit tremendously. They can redirect their revenue to more income-generating processes instead of reserving it for unnecessary costs.
In manufacturing, multiple departments often work autonomously; one hand does not know what the other is doing, so to speak. However, Big Data and the Internet of Things will facilitate “conversations” between multiple departments, facilitating faster and more accurate processes.
For instance, RFID (radio-frequency identification) tags already track products’ trajectories through the supply chain. Manufacturers can fit components with RFID tags starting at the beginning of the chain and track them all the way through the delivery to the end user. Take the recent work undertaken by a consortium including CPI, Ford Motors, Loughborough University and the MTC to create a network of RFID components with robust and reliable sensors, autonomous operation, proactive reasoning and also learning abilities. The sensors were printed onto metal with the aim of enhancing the manufacturer’s ability to map stock on the factory floor, increasing productivity and quality assurance.
Over the next few years, RFID and similar technology will become more sophisticated. Developments in printable electronics, for example, will increase data storage, which will ultimately allow manufacturers to take greater advantage of Big Data. The world’s data storage needs will grow by the petabyte every month, which means companies need inexpensive and safe ways to house that data.
Big Data will unite all departments under the umbrella of the Internet of Things. If logistics and transportation can talk to research and development and if production can talk to quality control, products will roll off the factory line in better condition and of better quality than ever before. Furthermore, manufacturing will remain in communication with sales, customer service, marketing, and other arms of a business’s operation.
Currently, several financial barriers to entry have stopped businesses from adopting the IoT in their manufacturing plants. However, technology availability and lowered prices will gradually make Big Data and the IoT more accessible (and more optimised), which will increase adoption rates across the board.
Additionally, new methods of leveraging the IoT will allow small and underfunded businesses to take advantage of these technologies. For instance, CPI offers businesses an opportunity to use their resources and facilities to prototype new products and processes and to demonstrate their unique value propositions.
Partnerships with companies like CPI will enable entrepreneurs to realise their goals without putting themselves in insurmountable debt. This will lead to greater competition in the marketing space because large corporations will no longer monopolise the industry.
Writing for Tech Target, technology reporter Beth Stackpole predicts that the Internet of Things (and the Industrial Internet of Things, or IIoT) will enable manufacturers to leverage the technology to create new business models known as ‘product as a service’. This business model expands revenue opportunities and allows manufacturers to take full advantage of their equipment and facilities.
In product as a service business models, manufacturers can sell products on both a one-time and a recurring basis. For instance, auto manufacturers already take full advantage of this model. They sell cars (one-time) and lease them (recurring) to maximise profits on their inventories.
As IoT adoption increases, manufacturers will see greater opportunities to leverage their assets both on and off the production line. Additionally, Big Data will revolutionise the way manufacturers collect, store, and retrieve information about consumers. The more they know about the end user, the easier it becomes to tweak the manufacturing process to suit the market.
Stackpole points out that this could increase brand loyalty. If consumers can depend on manufacturers for both one-time and recurring needs, they have fewer reasons to use competitors. Both small and large businesses will carve out specific niches for their product lines. Product-centric businesses will become far less common; instead, product as a service pioneers will emerge as the most successful businesses in the Big Data and IoT revolution.
Many of these points discuss the near and far future for manufacturing. However, SupplyChain247 reports that 83% of respondents to a survey reported that they have either already deployed the Internet of Things in their manufacturing processes or plan to do so in the near future.
The barriers don’t lie in deployment and implementation, but rather in understanding and analysing. In an interview with SupplyChain247, Zebra Technologies senior director Jim Hilton said, “Everyone likes to walk around saying IoT these days, and the buzzword takes on the meaning of whoever just said it.” Over the next several years, the IoT will become more understood and more widely used as manufacturers recognise its power.
Additionally, resources like connected devices and smart sensors will continue to prove indispensable for the supply chain. Businesses already use them to improve processes and gather Big Data, but the future lies in refinement and polishing.
In other words, companies already have the ability to leverage Big Data, the IoT, and the IIoT, but it will take time for them to fully realise their potential.
The future of manufacturing awaits. Big Data and the IoT will revolutionise the way the world’s companies produce, market, and sell products. Next-generation operations will use every facet of the IoT to enable M2M communication, derive data from smart sensors, put all departments in communication, and leverage partnerships with allied businesses.
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