The manufacturing industry is undergoing a dramatic shift centered around new technologies that offer the promise of greater efficiency, speed, and higher quality. A central component of this shift toward Industry 4.0 is the internet of things (IoT), whereby the entire supply chain is becoming more connected due to IoT-enabled devices.
What is IoT?
IoT broadly refers to a network of devices and sensors capable of capturing and communicating data with one another. The sensors in the system enable the collection of granular data, for example, from assets like machinery, in terms of their energy consumption, heat levels, uptime/downtime, or the tracking of goods being shipped.
Oftentimes, this data is made actionable by artificial intelligence. Machine learning algorithms comb through the collected data for anomalies to flag and return notifications and recommendations to decision-makers. whether on the factory floor or in the warehouses.
IoT and the production process
The data capture enabled by IoT primarily drives greater overall efficiency by helping to optimize each phase of the production process. Whether it’s general day-to-day operations, the health of machinery, or reducing energy consumption, information collected by IoT devices supports better decision-making and quick alerts when something is going wrong and affects overall manufacturing safety.
The major benefit of the bird’s-eye view offered by IoT is preventative maintenance and safety. For instance, when a machine uses excessive energy, overheats or begins severely vibrating, management can see this data and perform maintenance before a critical failure occurs and the safety of workers is at risk.
IoT-powered supply chains
IoT doesn’t end at the manufacturing plant. The network of data capture and analysis can span the entire supply chain, from resource procurement through product refinement and tracking to notifying end-users when a product needs maintenance or replacement.
Integrating IoT with the supply chain also helps in accurately determining the exact location and condition of the product, which helps in precise production planning.
Challenges and barriers to Implementing IoT in Manufacturing
The cost of true, full-scale IoT implementation is a major impediment to instituting IoT on a wider scale in manufacturing. While companies are already starting to implement IoT systems, many are incomplete and will take some time to grow to the level of a truly comprehensive system. However, the cost of sensors is falling over time, making IoT more accessible.
Another major barrier are “data silos.” In short, this means a lack of interoperability, either due to technical challenges or an unwillingness on the part of companies to work together. Combining IoT with technologies such as blockchain can change this, without the need for companies to expose their proprietary information to one another.
Finally, there’s the elephant in the room: security. The IoT, by its very nature, means more devices connected to a network, offering potential attackers more entry points and increasing attack vectors. There’s a lot that manufacturers of IoT devices can do to improve the security situation, but maintaining best practices and establishing firm policies around security remains the responsibility of the company implementing the system.