At the beginning of the 21st century, most people thought that using an autonomous network of connected devices that collects and analyzes data is only a distant possibility. Today, it is very much a reality thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT).
In fact, this technology has proliferated our world so much that the total installed base of IoT devices worldwide is projected to reach 30.9 billion units by 2025.
Unsurprisingly, the Internet of Things is gaining a lot of traction within the manufacturing industry in particular. According to Market Watch, the global IoT market within this sector is expected to reach $88.4 billion by 2026. Naturally, this may prompt the question — what is all the commotion about?
- Top use cases within the industry
- Benefits of IoT technology
- Trends we are seeing
- Implementation challenges
Let’s get started.
Top IoT Use Cases in the Manufacturing Industry
In recent years, more and more companies have been adopting a smart approach to manufacturing. Specifically, by leveraging the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which relies on sensors for production data collection and intelligence software for extracting insights about operational efficiency.
As you can imagine, there are many ways for IIoT to be applied in the manufacturing sector. However, in the interest of coherence, we are going to focus on the top five main ones.
1. Asset Monitoring
One of the primary Internet of Things use cases in the manufacturing industry is for real-time asset monitoring. No matter the products you’re creating, chances are you’ve got multiple facilities and equipment that help in the production process. Naturally, it can get difficult to keep track of them all, which is why IoT applications can help in this manufacturing area.
With the help of connected devices, you can create dashboards that let you locate the assets as well as monitor their health, utilization, and availability in real-time. Moreover, with remote manufacturing, installed sensors can keep track of the production process and send timely status updates to employees.
As a result, manufacturers are able to accurately identify which assets are in use, in storage, out of service, or underutilized. Plus, stay on top of remote operations by monitoring work-in-progress across factories via web solutions or mobile apps. Thus, providing the opportunity to make more effective business decisions.
2. Predictive Maintenance
When you’re in the business that deals with a lot of expensive machinery, every time it’s temporarily out of order or gets permanently damaged — you’re losing tens, if not hundreds, of dollars. Unsurprisingly, many manufacturers are eager to minimize such occurrences.
Once again, IoT applications can come to the rescue. Besides keeping track of your existing assets, industrial IoT software can rely on sensors, cameras, and data analytics to predict machine failure before it happens and alert your personnel to help prevent it. That way, maintenance schedules can be automated and optimized to implement repairs at the right time before you face exuberant losses due to any malfunctions.
In short, IoT solutions for manufacturing can immensely improve a firm’s maintenance capabilities. Primarily, by prolonging equipment lifetime, preventing machine failure, and lowering the risk of accidents for your employees.
3. Supply Chain Management
Companies whose business largely relies on the effectiveness of transportation are always looking for ways to improve supply chain operations. Manufacturing organizations are no different, which is why more and more of them are looking into IoT applications to help with the entire process.
By turning to connected devices, manufacturers can gain the ability to monitor items in warehouses, follow truck movement, and even control the conditions under which products are being transported.
Moreover, with the help of IoT telematics, manufacturing firms can facilitate drivers’ safety. First, by having access to the real-time GPS location of the fleet. Second, by leveraging software that monitors driver’s behavior on the road and sends alerts whenever there is a harsh acceleration, surpassing the speed limit, or if there’s been a collision detected. Thus, helping ensure safety compliance and minimize risky situations.
4. Quality Control
Product quality is essential in every industry that designs, creates, and transports physical goods, but it is especially fundamental in manufacturing. After all, no company wants to deliver subpar products that end up being rejected. So, in recent years, manufacturers have been doubling down on improving their quality control process, and some have already started employing IoT to help with it.
You see, by combining connected devices with artificial intelligence and computer vision, anomalies can be quickly detected so that corrective action is taken in time. Moreover, data from sensors can be compared to quality thresholds, allowing for even minor defects to be avoided.
Unlike with human quality control, intelligent machines can deliver higher degrees of accuracy. Thus, significantly minimizing losses incurred from manufacturing defective products.
5. Employee Safety Assessment
Finally, the last IoT use case we’ll discuss today is about ensuring employee safety in manufacturing facilities.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 373.3 thousand nonfatal injuries and illnesses in the manufacturing industry in 2020. Naturally, it’s in everybody’s best interest to try and decrease these numbers. Thankfully, by implementing IoT devices in the manufacturing sector, it has actually become possible.
First, companies can rely on connected cameras that leverage computer vision for detecting risks within the workplace. An employee forgot to put on safety equipment? A coworker didn’t clean up and left a mess that can cause an accident? These and other kinds of situations will quickly trigger alerts from smart devices, thus helping you improve compliance with safety regulations and keep personnel out of harm’s way.
However, that’s not all. Another IoT application for controlling employee safety in manufacturing industry is the usage of wearables. You see, solutions that are similar to fitness trackers can not only improve ergonomics but also trace a workers’ location, detect falls, and even monitor air quality and noise levels they’re exposed to.
As you can imagine, these solutions significantly reduce the amount of work-related injuries and accidents that occur within your facilities. Not to mention, they also help lower your risk of being subject to insurance compensation claims due to negligence. As we’ve previously mentioned — it’s a win-win for everyone involved.
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Benefits of IoT in Manufacturing
Now that you know the top IoT use cases in manufacturing, it’s time to zero in on the benefits that they deliver to businesses.
First of all, improved decision-making is one of the key benefits of IoT in manufacturing. Thanks to the sensors’ ability to gather valuable data and distribute it in real-time, your decisions can now be based on the most up-to-date and accurate information. Moreover, due to the data being transformed into easily readable dashboards, you can analyze insights faster than ever.
Operational Efficiency Boost
Besides improving the decision-making process, IoT technologies can give your entire operations a significant efficiency boost. Due to real-time production and quality control, remote asset monitoring, and predictive maintenance, your company no longer has to spend valuable time keeping track of various business areas. Thus, speeding up all of your workflows.
If you choose to leverage IoT devices for detecting workplace risks, monitoring the safety of your facilities, and keeping an eye on employee wellbeing, you’ll be able to reduce the number of potential accidents and injuries. As a result, your personnel will be provided with a safer work environment and be able to perform their tasks without unnecessary health worries.
Cost optimization is a natural byproduct of the majority of the IoT use cases we’ve discussed today. Largely thanks to the automation that connected devices deliver, manufacturers can significantly reduce machine downtime, product quality issues, supply chain delays, and even workplace accidents. As a result, unnecessary expenses diminish and leave you to focus on what’s most important — running your business.
Customer Satisfaction Improvement
Even a seemingly small change in product quality can have an immense impact on customer satisfaction and loyalty. Hence, IoT technologies that carry out predictive maintenance or quality control help eliminate human errors and prevent the distribution of damaged goods. Naturally, this results in happier customers who end up choosing your company again and again.
IoT Trends in Manufacturing
The future of IoT in manufacturing promises to be bright, as we saw from the projected market growth in the coming years. So, as is the case within most expanding sectors, there are several trends that seem to be paving the way. Below, we’ll discuss the top three in more detail.
One of the major IoT trends in manufacturing, that has also made our list of top tech developments in 2022, is definitely the growth of digital twin technology.
As you probably know, manufacturers are always on the hunt to gain deeper insights into asset or product performance. Moreover, everyone’s interested in carrying out real-world scenario testing without committing to the exuberant costs it may incur.
Enter — digital twins. These technologies are basically highly accurate virtual models of various assets like factories, production lines, equipment, or products. They work thanks to sensors that are attached to physical objects for data collection and transferring of information onto the digital copy. Thus, allowing you to run simulations and monitor performance seamlessly.
Of course, manufacturers are still in the early stages of full-blown digital twin adoption. Integration and outdated legacy system challenges remain a concern for many firms. However, considering the demand for accurate virtual copies of assets, it’s unlikely that this trend will lose its appeal in the near future.
IoT systems produce enormous amounts of data that needs to be processed and analyzed in order to be of any use to the manufacturer. The faster this undertaking occurs — the better since time is of the essence when you’re trying to detect anomalies or foresee maintenance issues.
Hence, there’s been a rising interest in edge computing thanks to its ability to “move closer” to the physical location of the data source. Thus, allowing for faster analysis and lower latency since data no longer has to travel back to a central server for analytics to be carried out.
AR and VR
The last major trend that’s been garnering attention within the manufacturing sector is the reliance on combining IoT with augmented and virtual reality technology for employee training.
We’ve already established that preventing workplace accidents is in the best interest of everyone involved in manufacturing operations. Well, to minimize injuries, amongst other things, you need to ensure your personnel is properly trained for their job. Here, AR and VR can come in to offer the closest resemblance of real-world scenarios without the associated dangers.
Since employees sometimes have to deal with hazardous materials or complicated factory equipment, allowing them to train on highly accurate visualizations that have been mocked up via IoT data can be game-changing. It would enable workers to quickly learn how to operate specific machinery without exposing themselves to needless risk.
So, given the mounting labor shortages within the industry, it might be a good idea to consider combining an IoT solution with AR and VR in order to boost training efficiency. Thus, letting new hires get onboarded quickly while significantly reducing the risk of accidents.
IoT Adoption Challenges for Manufacturers
Despite the extensive range of benefits, some companies are still hesitant about developing IoT solutions for manufacturing. This is because there are several challenges that IoT adoption presents. So, let’s take a look at some of them.
The initial IoT software development cost is the first thing that makes some manufacturers pause to think about the usefulness of such applications. However, when taken in conjunction with ROI uncertainty, it’s enough to stop company leaders in their tracks and choose against pursuing IoT development.
You see, with manufacturing IoT solutions, you often have to invest in hardware, cloud storage, connectivity, and ongoing technical support. Yet, it’s hard to pinpoint the exact return on your investments since some effects of IoT solutions aren’t linear.
For instance, you may implement an employee safety monitoring solution, but you can’t be sure how many accidents or insurance claims you’ve actually managed to avoid. Thus, not all organizations are able to commit to upfront costs that IoT tools require.
So, for those who are on the fence, it might be worth starting with a small-scale project that is predicted to have a good impact on the bottom line. That way, once you’ve seen first-hand what IoT can do and how it benefits your business specifically, you’ll be more willing to pursue larger initiatives.
Integrating Multiple Systems
Another major challenge of implementing Industrial IoT in manufacturing is the difficulty of integration with legacy systems. No matter the type of IoT solution you choose to develop, it’ll need to integrate into the digital manufacturing ecosystem. Ideally, without incurring any data losses or security mishaps.
Thus, ensuring seamless integration can be a challenge because legacy systems are usually built on different technologies and networks that may not be compatible with current IoT software. So, keep this potential roadblock in mind and make sure your development team has a plan for tackling any integration issues.
Security is definitely another big concern for those interested in leveraging connected devices. Since myriads of data are transmitted between various nodes and across a network, companies become more vulnerable to security breaches.
Thus, it’s essential to prioritize the implementation of sophisticated security measures in order to avoid problems down the line. Make sure that you are thinking about this crucial element before IoT development even begins. It will make things much easier in the long run.
Finding Skilled Talent
Lastly, another challenge you may have on your road to IoT adoption is the lack of qualified employees. Despite the increasing demand for the technology, it may be hard to find specialists who are available and have expertise in your business domain. Especially, when you take into account location constraints.
Thus, it may be worth it to outsource software development as it’ll help you avoid the time-consuming expert search. Moreover, turning to an experienced external vendor might actually end up being more financially prudent since you won’t have to hire an entire in-house team and worry about employee benefits, payroll taxes, and the like.
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Ready for IoT Software Development?
As we’ve seen today, the Internet of Things brings ample benefits to manufacturing enterprises. Whether through asset monitoring and predictive maintenance or quality control and employee safety enhancement — there are plenty of business areas that the technology can improve.
Of course, this complex innovation doesn’t come without its challenges. That’s precisely why it’s important to turn to an experienced team when developing your next IoT solution. After all, you don’t want to rush into the software building phase without properly considering all the factors that will affect the success of your undertaking.
Our team has already completed multiple IoT software development projects for key players from various industries. Thus, we understand how to bring such initiatives to fruition. So, don’t hesitate to reach out to Velvetech’s specialists and request a consultation. We’d be happy to discuss ways in which we can collaborate.