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Internet of Things (IoT) in Manufacturing

DAVID SHEARER
18 November 2019

Internet of Things (IoT) in Manufacturing

Manufacturers rely on new innovations to streamline their processes, reduce margins and cut costs. The Internet of Things (IoT) is, perhaps, the most transformative innovation in recent times. Connecting equipment, sensors and instruments with computer-based industrial applications, IoT offers enhanced productivity, automation, efficiency and profits.

Industrial Internet of Things, sometimes known as IIoT, is focused on collecting data relating to the production line. Once collected, this data can be transformed into useful content and deliver accurate insights into the efficiency of existing operations. 

With this information, manufacturers can pinpoint where efficiency can be improved and enhance productivity accordingly. In addition to this, IIoT can be used to manage quality control. Capable of identifying inconsistencies or variations in the output, machine learning can be used to halt productions or alert staff at the first sign of discrepancies. 

 

Internet of Things

 

A new era in manufacturing

Manufacturing has always found ways to utilize the latest machinery, equipment and technology. In doing so, the role of human staff in the industry has changed phenomenally over the years. The introduction of IoT and machine learning is simply the latest evolution in the sector, but it is one that could bring about the most profound change. 

Whilst IoT can be used in the production line, it can be used across virtually every element of the manufacturing process too. From warehousing and logistics to fleet maintenance and product control; the Internet of Things can streamline processes, reduce waste and, inevitably, increase profit margins. 

When it comes to warehousing and inventory management, for example, IoT allows stock to managed more accurately, more quickly and more safely. With real-time information constantly being updated, staff can track goods at every point in the distribution line and modify their operations accordingly. 

The ability to manage inventory more effectively gives businesses the opportunity to broaden their horizons. Whilst some companies have been unable to increase their product line due to the cost of warehousing and distribution, for example, IoT will enable them to do so. Similarly, businesses can use IoT to offer mass customization. Effectively increasing the variations in their product lines in accordance with client demand, the use of IoT will ensure that companies can cater to their market and manufacture a wider range of products, without reducing production volume. 

With IoT enabled vehicles, fleet management becomes far more efficient too. Telematics enable fleet operators to monitor fleet productivity and performance in real-time, while driver behavior and vehicle performance can be logged and analyzed as well.

This constant stream of information allows fleet vehicles to be maintained more effectively, with instances of unplanned maintenance significantly reduced. When a breakdown causes a fleet vehicle off the road and renders its cargo to become unusable, it can cost the company tens or hundreds of thousands of pounds. 

By eliminating the possibility of breakdowns, unexpected faults and unplanned maintenance, IoT will save fleet management operators a substantial amount each year. At the same time, the increased efficiency offered by IoT will enable them to exceed their customers’ expectations at every turn. 

Machine learning and data analytics in manufacturing

Although IoT creates an interconnected network of sensors, machines and equipment, the data it produces must be collected, stored and analyzed. Until this analysis takes place, the information produced is somewhat meaningless.

However, data analytics can be a time-consuming and, ultimately, endless task for human analysts. When data is produced in large volumes, such as when IoT is used, it becomes ‘unanalyzable’ for humans.

With AI and machine learning, however, this data can be thoroughly analyzed and used to create digestible and usable information. Capable of processing data at far higher speeds than humans could ever imagine, machine learning makes it possible for IoT to have a meaningful impact on the manufacturing industry as a whole.

When data is produced across warehousing, logistics, production lines, staffing and fleet maintenance at lightning speeds, companies must make use of complementary technology to ensure this information benefits the business. 

Whilst data, in itself, can be inherently valuable, its value is only realized when companies can put it to use. Machine learning and artificial intelligence make this possible. With the right systems in place, manufacturers can take advantage of the benefits IIoT brings and use it to enhance their operations. 

Once in place, the data analytics carried out by machine learning will enable companies to operate with smaller margins than ever before. Similarly, productivity can be maximized to previously unseen levels and profits can grow accordingly.

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