Rising levels of demand, new sustainability goals and a growing industry labor gap all pose serious challenges for the manufacturing industry.
New tech is often essential in solving these kinds of emerging problems. For manufacturing, the internet of things (IoT) has been critical in solving the biggest challenges of the 21st century.
These major innovations enabled by IoT tech have allowed the manufacturing industry to adapt and prepare for the future.
1. Asset Tracking
With the right IoT devices, it’s possible to track important assets — including goods, vehicles, robots and machines — as they move or are moved through the supply chain.
For example, a warehouse owner may tag each pallet in the warehouse with an RFID tag. RFID readers throughout the warehouse can then track the approximate location of each of these pallets — providing a real-time “map” of warehouse assets.
Over time, this information can be organized in a variety of ways — like maps of warehouse traffic flows. These maps can help owners identify bottlenecks and wasted space. Thus, allowing them to make layout changes to improve traffic flow and optimize use of floor space.
GPS tracking solutions allow businesses to monitor fleet vehicles in real-time. Vehicle tracking data can be passed onto customers. This provides them with a real-time view of where their delivery is and when to expect it. These systems can also be useful for businesses that want to prevent dangerous driving practices. Or perhaps cut down on the amount of idling done by delivery drivers.
2. Remote Factory Monitoring and Control
It’s also possible to use these IoT devices to keep an eye on how machines or factory equipment is behaving.
For example, a factory owner may connect site laser cutters with an IoT device that can connect to the factory’s network. This can allow workers on-site to directly import pattern files into the laser cutting system via a network connection. In practice, this allows the workers to effectively control the laser cutters with a PC or Mac, reducing the complexity and time needed for laser cutting jobs.
Because laser cutters are so versatile. They can be used for tasks ranging from machining metals to engraving a finished product, this change could save serious time across all factory workflows.
With other tech, you can monitor just about any part of a factory or manufacturing plant. For example, a plant that’s testing a new system to help reduce emissions can use IoT sensors for round-the-clock site emissions testing. This will provide real-time info on how the system is working — and also a database that they can use to identify patterns in emissions over the course of the day.
3. “Smart” and Predictive Maintenance
IoT sensors can also enable a new kind of maintenance strategy — one that allows factory owners to predict when machines are going to fail.
Predictive maintenance allows factory managers to use IoT data collection to prevent failure and downtime. For example, a factory owner may use IoT devices to monitor the temperature, vibration and timing of a machine’s engine. By capturing this data, you get both a picture of real-time machine health and a dataset that you can use to predict failure.
After establishing a baseline, an analytics system can establish safe operating thresholds for that machine. When the machine’s operating parameters leaves these thresholds — the engine starts to overheat or vibrate more than usual, for example — the system can alert the factory’s maintenance team. These workers can then deactivate the machine, preventing future damage, and schedule maintenance.
Most factories that haven’t adopted IoT tech currently rely on preventative maintenance. With this strategy, factory technicians follow a manufacturer-recommended maintenance schedule, conducting repairs and maintenance at regular intervals. This strategy is effective, but can be expensive and may miss certain problems if they emerge between maintenance checks.
Because the predictive maintenance system is constantly monitoring machine performance, factory managers are much more likely to catch issues as they arise.
In practice, this approach can help companies significantly cut down on maintenance costs and the risk of unplanned downtime. Exact savings vary, but data from the U.S. Department of Energy suggests that businesses can see up to a 30% reduction in maintenance costs. And also up to a 75% decrease in breakdowns.
4. Cold Chain Monitoring
IoT technology can be especially useful for pharmaceutical or food and beverage manufacturers. Both need to transport goods under specific environmental conditions.
In the pharmaceutical industry, this has meant organizing what’s known as the cold chain. The environmentally-controlled supply chain that moves drugs from one point to another while keeping them cooler than a certain temperature.
When medicine rises above that temperature, causing what’s called a temperature excursion, it can quickly spoil. If a system can alert supply chain workers to temperature excursions, they can take quick action to prevent spoilage.
This kind of temperature data can also help after the fact. If you know exactly when a container rose above safe temperature thresholds, you may know how to prevent a similar mistake in the future.
Most IoT temperature tracking solutions can also act as asset tracking technology. As a result, they can give pharmaceutical manufacturers better information on shipment locations while helping to keep shipments in a safe temperature range.
Using IoT to Overcome Manufacturing Industry’s Biggest Challenges
The internet of things has been central to recent innovation in manufacturing. The tech has enabled new approaches to factory management — like smart asset tracking, predictive maintenance and remote factory — and is helping the sector solve some of its most pressing challenges.
As the range of IoT tech improves, big data analysis becomes more sophisticated. These devices are likely to help the manufacturing industry to innovate further.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.