Considering the long time association of IoT technologies with various industries like, supply chain management, transportation, healthcare or environment monitoring, it is quite astonishing that they are yet to make significant inroad in manufacturing sector. Adoption has remained lacklustre for a long time despite availability of solutions; globally. However, things are a-changing; IoT is making its presence felt on shop floors; in factory shades; across production processes. And with that the technology is ushering a new age – too many are calling it fourth industrial revolution.
In this write up, we shall discuss more about IoT scene in manufacturing. Let us start understanding what made manufacturers a late adopter of IoT.
IoT: the challenges faced by manufacturers
- Interoperability – Even a medium sized manufacturing unit follows pretty complex processes, protocols with loads of legacy machinery and control systems from different suppliers. Building a convergence within them through IoT has never been easy task. This has contributed immensely behind manufacturers not harnessing full potential of IoT. For smaller units, however, investment in IoT does not make much sense because human labour is lot affordable in low scale.
- Security – Businesses are always protective about production floors data. IoT connected devices on factory floors make the data available on cloud in real time for analytics and decision making. That means there remains a potential threat of valuable production data falling into wrong hands through hacking attacks. It is always a concern with IoT. Locally keeping the data protected is also not an option as that defies use of IoT solutions in true sense.
- Convergence between IT and OT – OT or operational technology has not been very network oriented unlike IT or information technology; in manufacturing. However, for implementing IoT solution manufacturers need a steady and sound convergence between these two. Lately the have started moving in that direction.
- Connectivity issue – Though the situation have improved a lot recently; but in the initial days it was a serious concern. Manufacturing setups in remote locations hardly had reliable network connectivity for implementing IoT.
- Business process responsiveness – Legacy business processes, suitable for pre-IoT age, are not responsive to the vast increase in speed of information processing enabled by IoT solutions. Manufacturers needed to evolve to keep pace with IoT technologies. This also caused late adoption.
- Lack of integrated IoT solutions – For manufacturers IoT solutions for entire value chain was not always available. Partial implementation of IoT in piecemeal basis serves only limited purpose in terms of efficiency and control. Integrated IoT solutions for complete value chain are recently being offered by leading players in the industry.
Things are a-changing
As we know, things have already started improving with entry of top level players; consolidation of fragmented solution providers. Interoperable solutions are being offered removing restrictions related suppliers and technologies. Many of the IoT technologies today take care of start-to-end processes in manufacturing units giving unprecedented utility and scale. It is expected that globally IoT investment in manufacturing is going touch USD 70 billion by 2020. The latest applications of the technology in manufacturing is specifically resolving some of the key problems in manufacturing sector.
Manufacturing specific IoT solutions
- Managing assets and overcoming failures – It is really difficult to keep track of all the processes and equipment in large manufacturing set up. Sometime, small things go out of proportion for the lack of timely response and end up significantly impacting the core processes; causing disruptions. Sensor-based tracking and IoT based smart monitoring help to identify such issues much before reducing chances of larger damage. Predictive decision making for unforeseen events on the basis of real time data analysis is also a key capabiility that IoT offers. It helps to minimize downtime and improve production quality and efficiency.
- Keeping employee protected and safe – In manufacturing, workers are often exposed to harsh and hazardous working conditions. Monitoring equipment and processes in such conditions are not considered safe. Sensor-based monitoring of these areas and remote controlling of such processes and equipment on the basis of data fed by sensors can save workmen from life threatening situations.
- Seamless integration of production unit with supply chain – Unlike manufacturing, IoT solutions are being used in supply chain management since a long time. Implementation of IoT factory floors have have integrated these two processes for an overall improvement is business process efficiency. Separate processes like, inventory tracking, location monitoring, reporting of materials utilization and production flow can now be integrated and tracked for more informative decision making.
- Less human engagement in risky operations – Manufacturing has been automated since a long time. However, human monitoring has remained and integral part of the automated processes. Despite the best efforts, human monitoring is always susceptible to errors; especially in long hours. IoT based monitoring solves this shortcoming offering tireless monitoring and smart detection of anomalies without significant human involvement.
Situation in developing countries
In countries like, India, IoT adoption in manufacturing is still not pacing up. The reason is more about economics. Modern IoT solutions are lot more effective but involve lot of investment in infrastructure. For larger production units also that is a concern; especially, because of abundance of semi-skilled labor at affordable cost. Monitoring process in hardcore manufacturing is still predominantly human intensive despite inherent shortcomings. Though, as per a McKinsey report, developing countries are going to make over 40% contribution to global IoT spending in coming years.
In India, there is lot of potential in agriculture, road traffic management and other areas of remote monitoring. Amul, the largest diary and FMCG cooperative in India, has already implemented IoT based quality monitoring in its collection system from milk farmers.
With physical world of manufacturing itself becoming a networked information system, no doubt, our legacy manufacturing world is going to experience a huge overhaul. This is going to impact no just productivity but the whole concept of management that govern manufacturing. Too many operational management practices need to be discarded or revised. Many job roles will be declared redundant giving ways to new profiles like, data scientists and data technologists. This is already a reality in many places in the world. Welcome to cybernetic-driven industrial age.