IoT-driven Digital Transformation in Manufacturing

There are numerous talks about digital transformation these days. The number of industries reinvented by modern technology continues to rise, as these industries manage to optimize obsolete workflows, improve overall productivity, or introduce completely new products to the market. That is also true for the manufacturing industry.

Many innovative technologies are entering the industrial sector today, but the Internet of Things is probably the biggest name.

IoT-based systems have already started to be used by major global enterprises for mission-critical tasks, whether Airbus is developing a “factory of the future” complete with wearables and sensors, or Komatsu is monitoring international mining activities.

How can IoT help various companies with their digital transformation programs? How can IoT in manufacturing help them? This article will guide you through the basics and answer your questions along the way if you are unfamiliar with the topic.

IoT is driving four major trends

There are four major trends driven by the Internet of Things. The use of sensors in products and exploitation of the operational data they generate is disrupting not only the industrial manufacturing industry but also the ecosystem in which it operates, as:

  • The shift from data-enabled services to data-based services
  • Ensures that OEM value chains are customer-centric instead of product-centric
  • Create disruptions in existing ecosystems by changing relationships throughout the supply chain
  • Provides valuable feedback on product design and engineering

To address challenges, such as those listed below, disrupting existing business models and moving to higher-value services have been necessary.

  • Manufacturing has become more cost-effective thanks to globalization.
  • Existing products experiencing natural erosion of profit margins due to commodification
  • Companies that wrap OEM equipment in service-based contracts compete with aftermarket companies

What is Industry 4.0 and IIoT?

There is an Internet of Things that refers to a network that connects and communicates between appliances (or ‘things’). The Internet of Things also includes devices that were not designed to be connected from the beginning, such as refrigerators, harvesting tractors, or air conditioners.

Industry 4.0– the new era of industrial production favouring digital technology and encompassing automation – is enabled in part by the proliferation of IoT. Industry 4.0 challenges, like growing customer expectations and demands for customization, are addressed by IIoT, a subdivision of IoT that aims to streamline industrial workflows.

During IIoT implementations, manufacturers adopt specialized devices and software at every stage of the production process, from ordering raw materials to delivering finished goods to their clients. Managing each step of the process becomes more predictable and efficient.

The Internet of Things in manufacturing: what are its benefits?

Companies are required to be agile and responsive to changes in supply and demand in the era of Industry 4.0 if they want to stay competitive and achieve good profits. Enterprises are using IoT in manufacturing to perform these transformations on the shop floor and increase the ability to analyse data and make critical decisions.

Monitoring of operations in manufacturing facilities is enhanced by continuous logging of activities and machine status via sensors and devices installed throughout the facility. Monitoring can increase KPI adherence and lead to enhanced supply chain tracking as the next step.

A key feature of Industrial IoT systems is that they can gather and transmit data in real time, which means users can access real time information about industrial assets at any time, wherever they are located.

The need for instant sharing of data is crucial to making on-the-go decisions, receiving real time alerts, and responding quickly to problems. Staff can schedule maintenance based on needs rather than regular check-ups that may miss the problem, preventing downtime.

Full-cycle IIoT development

Custom Industrial IoT systems require multiple trials and performance checks before they can be considered suitable for large-scale enterprise implementation.

An idea for a new product begins with a rigorous analysis of its technical requirements, then a functional and schematic design and the prototype are developed. A proof-of-concept results after the design, routing, testing, and bringing up of a printed circuit board have been completed.

After the firmware design and development phase, the first device sample is produced and tested comprehensively. The team begins the production process and quality control of a pilot device, assuming the sample passes all tests and certifications.

Industrial IoT use cases in manufacturing

1. Smart factories

Smart factories, also known as connected factories, use the Internet of Things to ensure that production processes are optimized versus specific processes. Using sensors, smart devices, and cloud-based data analytics systems, factories can increase efficiencies and streamline operations.

One instance of this is the smart factory operated by Stanley Black and Decker in Mexico, which increased the production of routers used in woodworking by 24 percent as a result of its IoT program. As an example of IoT deployment across numerous departments, the automotive company Magna Steyr tracked industrial equipment, such as tools and vehicle parts, implemented an automated order system, monitored components remotely via Bluetooth-enabled “smart packaging,” and used self-driving containers to transport parts.

2. Predictive equipment maintenance

In manufacturing, sensor-driven machinery monitoring is one of the most common uses of IoT. Workers can use it to determine precisely when and where maintenance is necessary. Using intelligent software, critical equipment can be monitored 24/7 for performance and malfunctions, and alerts can be issued automatically. This technology can be used not only to aid in the manufacturing process but also to protect manufacturers from warranty claims based on incorrect use of the product after shipment.

Industrial robot manufacturer ABB is using Internet of Things sensors to collect data about every robot’s performance, allowing engineers to anticipate equipment failure and prevent it from occurring. The FIELD System is a new robotics system developed by Fanuc and focuses on interconnecting machines, robots, PLCs, and sensors within a factory and enabling a factory wide Industrial IoT.

3. Industrial asset management

Manufacturing facilities with large asset portfolios have a higher risk of substantial losses from ineffective asset management. RFID transponders and Bluetooth trackers are commonly used in industrial IoT systems for inventory management, warehouse management, supply replenishment, and other processes.

Asset Intelligence from Caterpillar uses sensor data for advanced predictive analytics and provides fleet and vessel operators with advisory services. Engineers can now get access to detailed insights into the health of critical systems using AI-powered dashboards that combine siloed data. Not only do these insights prevent costly repairs, but they can also be used to boost energy efficiency.

4. Workplace safety

All manufacturers are committed to protecting their workers. IIoT has made it easier for industries to keep employees safe and healthy in the age of Industry 4.0. Workers can now stay connected via wearable communication devices to a centralized safety system that monitors compliance with regulations and sends them safety notifications when potentially hazardous circumstances arise (e.g., where a worker enters a no-go zone).

Workers at North Star BlueScope Steel are equipped with wearable trackers that they attach to their helmets and wristbands. It combines health metrics sensors with environmental sensors that measure temperature, radiation levels, and toxic gas detection.

Current trends for IoT in manufacturing

Despite the pandemic blow, the global Internet of Things spending is expected to return to double-digit growth in 2021 and achieve a CAGR of 11.3% through 2024. Industrial IoT opens up new possibilities for manufacturers in the form of applications and use cases never seen before. Several major trends that are driving innovation forward can be identified as technology continues to mature and expand.

  • Cyber-physical systems: Such systems provide computers and networks with the power of physical systems, allowing physical processes to impact computations and vice versa through feedback loops.
  • 5G connectivity: IoT-enabled manufacturing solutions will receive an additional boost from the widespread adoption of 5G. As a result, 5G will make critical real-time applications more controllable, such as machine operations and surgery from a distance.
  • Digital twins: Industrial processes and assets are based on virtual twins in digital form. Digital twins consist of a data model, a set of algorithms, and a set of knowledge, as defined by GE Digital. Understanding and improving the performance of the physical twin is done using a digital twin.
  • Artificial intelligence: An analytics solution powered by artificial intelligence can detect anomalies in smart sensor data and identify patterns in the data. Artificial intelligence can make accurate predictions faster than traditional business intelligence solutions, which typically react to numerical thresholds.

Summing up

A significant innovation factor for manufacturing, Industrial IoT needs to be fully committed by all stakeholders to be effective. The IT expertise necessary to undertake this transformation is typically lacking in traditional enterprises. With the assistance of IT technology partners, large-scale IIoT programs are most often brought to life.