In the world of manufacturing, production systems and processes have long been a source of competitive advantage. Take the case of Toyota: the Just-In-Time system of manufacturing employed by Toyota allows them to produce high-quality vehicles at lower costs, in lesser time.
This has helped establish them as a leading car manufacturer across the globe.
But having a good process alone is not enough. What differentiates Toyota from the others in the industry is their principle of continuous improvement (kaizen) which gives them the ability to upgrade and update their processes at a pace that is difficult to match.
Today, with the advent of Industry 4.0, manufacturers across industries can now achieve even higher efficiencies at lower costs. A large part of this change is driven by the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
As per an IDC report, global spending on IoT will reach $745 billion in 2019.
The manufacturing industry is leading the pack in this, with an expected expenditure of $119 billion in discrete manufacturing, and $78 billion in process manufacturing.
In this context, let us explore how IoT is transforming the manufacturing industry.
Understanding IoT: A Quick Recap
IoT broadly refers to the addition of internet connectivity into everyday devices.
These devices and machines are embedded with hardware and software that allows them to share information among each other over the internet, without human intervention. It also allows them to be monitored and controlled remotely.
Industrial IoT refers to the use of these technologies directly in the manufacturing process. IIoT devices can be used to collect data for the purpose of analytics and smart decision making, helping automate and enhance several manufacturing processes.
Production Made Smarter: IoT in Manufacturing
IoT has already been implemented in various ways by different organizations. The robotics firm ABB uses IoT for the purpose of predictive maintenance (explained below). Airbus has implemented IoT as a part of its “Factory of the Future” initiative in an effort to bolster productivity.
How can you implement IoT for your manufacturing needs? Let’s explore some use cases.
Seeing into the Future: IoT and Predictive Analysis
One of the biggest advantages IoT offers manufacturers is the ability to predict machine failures, thus enabling them to carry out proactive maintenance activities. This is what is known as predictive maintenance.
How does this work?
To make use of predictive maintenance, manufacturers install IoT sensors on various machines and devices used in the production process. These sensors monitor the environment and the condition of the machines. For example, one sensor could monitor the temperature of the machine, while others could monitor sound frequencies or vibrations from the machine.
If the temperature of the machine rises beyond normal levels or there’s a change in the sound/vibrations of the machine, the sensors will alert the staff. This allows them to take immediate action and fix the issue before it causes a breakdown. This, in turn, reduces machine downtime, saving on costs and increasing the overall effectiveness of the factory.
This process is known as condition monitoring and can be quite time-intensive when done by a human. Manual checking also always has some room for error. The ability of IoT systems to quickly collect and analyze data makes it easier to predict the failure of a machine or part.
IoT can also be used in safety systems to warn workers and help them evacuate if there’s a threat of imminent disaster. For example, if an oil well is at the risk of blowing out, sensors can detect changes in pressure, drilling rates, and other indicators, and warn the workers in advance.
In the case of an emergency, IoT trackers can also be used to locate workers, making it easier for rescue teams to evacuate them.
Live updates: IoT and Location Tracking
Location tracking is yet another key benefit offered by IIoT.
In large manufacturing plants, inventory lots can span miles. Tracking a specific item in this lot can be a time-consuming and difficult process. While Amazon and others have come up with ways of accurately tracking the storage of their inventory, these solutions lack one important thing that IIoT can offer: real-time monitoring.
IIoT trackers can give plant managers and workers a live update of each item’s location. Embedded into each tool/item, these devices can continuously update the company cloud with their location using GPS or other methods. From tools and machinery to finished goods, every item can be tracked in real-time, making it easier to locate. This saves on the time spent locating a particular tool or an item.
Applying IoT trackers across the value chain can give managers real-time visibility of available raw materials, work in progress, finished goods inventory and the estimated time of arrival of new inputs. This can help them optimize their production.
It can also help mitigate the ‘bullwhip effect’ which often leads to inefficiencies in the supply chain. As managers will have a complete view of how much of an item has been sold or is unsold, how much is in inventory and how much is in production, they will be able to take better production decisions.
As briefly discussed in our article on the applications of blockchain in healthcare, IoT sensors can also be used to track the environmental conditions of a package being transported. This is especially useful for industries producing perishable goods which require specific storage conditions (pharmaceuticals, food, etc.). Depending on the changes experienced in the environment, the devices can automatically update the product’s expiration dates.
It can also help manufacturers identify stages at which these issues occur and look at ways to counter them.
Smarter Production: Smart Metering and Process Optimization
Another use of IoT sensors could be to monitor the consumption of resources by each device at each stage of the production process.
This can help manufacturers identify how much of each resource is consumed and for what process. It can be useful in identifying leakages in the system and identifying opportunities for process improvement.
This is not all. Apart from collecting and analyzing data, IoT can also be used to automate and enhance the production process.
By linking sensors to the actuators that are involved in and can be used to modify production processes, over a network, factories can achieve higher production efficiencies. All that is needed is to convert the readings from sensors into instructions for the actuators and communicate these over the factory network.
Here are two ways in which IoT can ensure Smarter Production:
Automatic process optimization: By installing a large number of sensors at each step of the production process, factories can achieve much greater granularity in monitoring. These sensors can be used to feed data to a central computer or a host of computers. These, in turn, analyze the data received and then send instructions to the actuators to modify processes as needed. For example, computers can command the actuators to adjust the temperature, modify the mixture of ingredients, readjust the position of an object on the assembly line, and more.
The first example comes in handy in industries like paper production. Paper production often requires frequent adjustments to the temperatures of lime kilns. This is currently done manually, which limits a plant’s productivity.
The last example is particularly useful on an assembly line as even small displacements in a part’s position on the line can damage tools and halt the production process.
By automating these processes using IoT, one can increase the speed with which such changes can take place. This will lead to faster, more responsive production.
Optimizing resource consumption: The application of Smart Meters can be extended to include inputs regarding the pricing of resources at various times of the day. By providing granular data regarding the number of resources being consumed and the cost per unit of each resource, these sensors can help intelligent manufacturing systems adjust production to lower overall costs.
For example, processes requiring a large amount of electricity could be scheduled for lower-priced off-peak hours.
Inputs from these sensors can also be used to optimize resource consumption by powering off underused equipment. Work being sent to underused equipment can be balanced among the other equipment in use, thus reducing the overall resource expenditure.
IoT is a powerful technological tool that can help businesses reinvent and revitalize their processes.
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