Checking in on the development of manufacturing IoT technology

A few early adopters have provided roadmaps for integrating IoT technology into shop floor processes.

The global markets for web-enabled devices associated with the Internet of Things is expected to balloon to more than $724 billion by 2023, according to data from Research Nester. While consumers are driving much of this growth, businesses are also taking part in the trend, adopting cutting-edge tools designed to streamline operations, facilitate increased scalability and ultimately widen profit margins. Manufacturers are particularly keen on the technology, as many already maintain advanced workflows in line with Industry 4.0. Even those on the outside looking in are actively searching for ways to upgrade their shop floor fixtures.

In December of last year, the Boston Consulting Group connected with information technology leaders from manufacturers across the country and asked them to assess their attitudes toward Industry 4.0 devices. Approximately 90 percent of respondents said these fixtures had the potential to bolster productivity and more than half stated that adopting them was an organizational priority. This sector​-wide enthusiasm bodes well for the development of manufacturing IoT technology.

Even so, understanding how these devices fit into existing workflows can be difficult, especially for firms that have only just embraced Industry 4.0. On top of that, the sheer number of available technologies complicates matters, as IT leaders struggle to sort through the options and pinpoint fixtures that may function within their respective production areas. Luckily, a few early adopters have provided roadmaps for integrating IoT technology into shop floor processes.

Manufacturing IoT technology continues to progress.Manufacturing IoT technology continues to progress.

Sensors abound
Few other IoT solutions hold as much potential as sensors. These web-enabled fixtures can attach to assets of any age and transmit essential operational data back to plant personnel, facilitating truly preventive asset maintenance programs and reducing instances of downtime, unplanned and otherwise. A surprisingly large number of producers have adopted sensor technology, according to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers. An estimated 35 percent of American manufacturers collect and use data from such devices. Around 17 percent intend to implement these fixtures within the next three years.

Harley-Davidson Motor Company is one of the most prominent sensor users in the manufacturing realm, The Wall Street Journal reported. The company retrofitted its aging factory in York, Pennsylvania with the technology seven years ago, installing carefully calibrated sensors designed to monitor machine vibrations. A backend system takes in the readings and provides maintenance personnel with detailed insights into how shop floor fixtures perform. General Electric orchestrated something similar, affixing sensors to water pumps powering an industrial-grade milling machine in an effort to monitor energy usage. The fixtures, which communicate with a transducer on the milling machine's control box, failed at first. However, with a few tweaks, the system found its footing and began gathering actionable data.

While these adoption journeys ended in success, implementers faced challenges along the way. Pairing aging equipment with cutting-edge technology is no easy task. Still, the end result is often worth the trouble, as sensors can catalyze major operational shifts and give maintenance teams the power to address developing mechanical problems before they devolve into costly catastrophes.

Retooled production assets
Sensors are not the only IoT devices entering production plants. In fact, mission-critical operational asserts are changing thanks to this trend, according to PwC. Many manufacturers are looking into smart machines, which leverage artificial intelligence-infused software to efficiently execute key shop floor tasks. These fixtures collect and analyze production data in real time, giving them the power to adjust their activities to maintain optimal efficiency. However, unlike sensors, smart machines are still in the early stages of development, Business Insider reported. Even so, some manufacturers have begun deploying these fixtures with help of pioneering technology firms.

Consumer goods giant Procter and Gamble collaborated with GE to deploy the smart machines in several of its production facilities. The assets and the underlying software are a part of GE's Brilliant Factory initiative, a research and development effort designed to create connected factories in which machines and backend system leverage big data to optimize plant operations. Since adoption, Procter and Gamble has seen unplanned downtime fall by 10 to 20 percent.

While an oddity now, smart machinery is poised to take off. In fact, these devices are expected to enter the mainstream by 2020, according to projections from Gartner. Analysts at the IT research firm believe 30 percent of major corporations will employ the technology in some way by that date, transforming the consulting and systems integration space into a $29 billion industry.

Waiting on the inevitable
As manufacturing IoT technology continues to mature, firm chief information officers and other IT stakeholders must prepare to adopt expansive workflows based on these fixtures as they will soon become industry standard. In this case, driving to become an early adopter is essential, The Wall Street Journal reported. Of course, manufacturing organizations making this push must prepare their existing workflows for the integration of IoT technology. This requires implementing new internal systems that support data-backed maintenance and production processes.

Here at eRPortal Software, we offer robust computerized maintenance management systems that integrate with a variety of digital tools. Contact us today to learn more about our CMMS offerings. 

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