IoT for Manufacturing: Benefits, Trends, and Solutions

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is one of the hottest trends in manufacturing right now. And it's driving extraordinary disruption in the sector, enabling revolutionary approaches to operations across factories. What's more, IoT is also changing the way consumers interact with manufacturers, giving them unprecedented insights into the products they use. All of this adds up to a manufacturing landscape that is vastly different from even just a few years ago. And it's only going to become more disruptive in the years to come. So if you're involved in manufacturing in any way, shape or form, it's time to get on board with IoT and this is what this article will help you do.

Briefly, IoT is all about connecting devices and machines to the internet so they can communicate with each other and share data. This data can then be used to optimize processes, improve safety and quality control, and boost efficiency among many other applications. 

IoT in manufacturing

IoT in manufacturing refers to the connection of machines and other equipment to the internet, allowing for more efficient production processes and supply chains. IoT has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing, making production lines more efficient and reducing downtime. IoT-enabled machines can communicate with each other and with human operators, providing real-time data that can be used to optimize performance. In addition, IoT can be used to track products throughout the supply chain, ensuring that they are delivered on time and reducing the risk of lost or damaged goods. These are just a few examples, but the potential for IoT in manufacturing is so big and this explains the current rush especially by big manufacturers to take advantage of this technology.  

Statistics that demonstrate growing use IoT in manufacturing

The manufacturing sector is awash with numerous statistics that demonstrate the growing adoption of IoT, here are just a few:

  1. The number of IoT-connected devices will rise to 29.4 billion devices by 2030.
  2. Fifty-eight percent of manufacturers believe IoT is necessary for transforming industrial operations.  
  3. A study by Statista Research Department predicts that the manufacturing industry will invest about 120 billion US Dollars in IoT, and the global spending on IoT will hit one trillion US Dollars by the end of 2022. 
  4. According to a survey on industrial manufacturing, 50 percent of the manufacturers surveyed had already implemented IoT solutions in logistics. A further 18 percent intend to do so within two years.
  5. A report by Fortune Business Insights projects that the global IoT market will grow at a CAGR of 26.4 percent from 478.36 billion US Dollars in 2022 to 2.465 trillion US Dollars in 2029. According to the report, the global IoT market was 384.70 billion US Dollars in 2021.

A common denominator across all these statistics is big numbers and a future of manufacturing that will be shaped quite rigorously by IoT. 

Also read: IoT in the Workplace

Benefits of IoT in manufacturing

The top benefits of IoT in manufacturing include:

1. Enhancing quality

Manufacturers continuously strive to improve the quality of their products. They have set up quality assurance departments to specifically ensure that substandard products don't get to their customers. Moreover, high-quality products offer more value, build customer trust, and increase revenue.

IoT plays a significant role in boosting quality. IoT devices capture critical product metrics and specifications at different stages of production. This data can be compared to the quality specifications and metrics, and any variance is noted. IoT enables the quality assurance process to be fast and accurate by eliminating the need for physical inspection.

IoT devices can also collect data on raw materials, which can be used to analyze the effect of certain inputs on finished goods. Such data can help streamline the production process for high-quality production. Furthermore, it can identify and prevent defective raw materials from reaching the production line.

2. Supply chain visibility

Tracking raw materials, work in progress (WIP), finished goods, and parts is critical throughout the manufacturing process. Delaying key raw materials can halt the process and increase idle capacity costs.

Luckily, IoT can help manufacturers to increase their inventory visibility and thus manage it more effectively. This technology makes it easier to monitor inventory and track its location. 

Manufacturers can integrate their material handling equipment, such as autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) and automated guided vehicles (AGVs), with IoT devices. This makes it easier to monitor materials delivered to specific stages of production.

IoT enables real-time inventory tracking, which results in accurate inventory records. Correct records are essential in forecasting demand for raw materials and thus ensure no stock-outs that could halt production. In addition, it prevents overstocking, which could tie up capital. 

Proper supply chain management ensures that all inventory is stored in suitable conditions. For example, some materials need specific temperature and humidity levels to maintain their quality or prevent spoiling. Monitoring such conditions in a warehouse can be challenging. However, IoT sensors can perfectly observe and control such elements and ensure all inventory is stored in ideal conditions in a storage warehouse. If the conditions are not ideal, the IoT sensors can send an alert so that corrective action can be taken.

3. Predictive maintenance

A study by Deloitte revealed that predictive maintenance lowers breakdowns by 70 percent, decreases maintenance costs by 25 percent, and boosts productivity by 25 percent.  

Manufacturing facilities are asset-incentive and should thus find the ideal balance between asset availability and costs. Production assets should be readily available, while maintenance costs should be minimal. However, finding the right balance is easier said than done.

Preventive maintenance is conducted regularly based on a schedule. This approach can and often leads to unnecessary downtimes. On the other hand, predictive maintenance is performed only when needed, depending on the condition of the equipment.

To achieve predictive maintenance, IoT devices continuously monitor the condition and performance of assets and collect data that enable manufacturers to predict and plan for maintenance. This helps the maintenance team to take proactive steps to prevent equipment failure. It also helps avoid downtime due to scheduled maintenance on perfectly working equipment.

This is commonly referred to as condition monitoring — the process of monitoring the health of equipment and systems in order to identify potential issues before they cause problems. By using sensors to gather data on factors such as vibration, temperature, and lubrication levels, it's possible to get real-time insights into the condition of machinery.

4. Safe manufacturing

Workplace safety is critical in any manufacturing facility. This is why governments go a long way to implement workplace safety regulations. The US government, for example, has laid down comprehensive safety standards and regulations to protect workers. However, workplace place safety continues to be a challenge, with over 4.5 million workplace reported injuries annually.

To make the production environment safer, manufacturing facilities can use IoT to enhance safety. For instance, IoT devices can monitor and predict workers' movements and patterns. Smart wearables like smartwatches, jackets, and helmets can study the work environment and patterns. They can then predict a worker's movement and notify them of a hazard.

In addition, smart devices can monitor a worker's health indicators, such as temperature, heartbeat, and blood oxygen levels. This level of monitoring can unearth signs of strain, fatigue, or other physical issues that can lead to injuries.

IoT is also ideal for monitoring environmental conditions in a manufacturing facility. Temperatures, noise levels, carbon monoxide, humidity, vibration, and other environmental conditions can adversely affect a worker's health. IoT sensors can monitor such situations and provide alerts when intolerable levels are reached. More advanced systems can even trigger corrective actions automatically.

5. Enhancing customer experience and satisfaction

With IoT, customers no longer have to worry whether their orders have left the warehouse. IoT devices allow round-the-clock visibility and faster product delivery. Manufacturing companies can use sensors on delivery vehicles to keep customers updated about their shipments. 

In fact, some manufacturing companies now rely on IoT to provide personalized customer service. IoT devices collect valuable data about customer insights, enabling them to understand consumer behavior and personalize communication to increase customer satisfaction. Furthermore, analyzing the customer data collected by these devices can help the research and development team to identify the critical concerns about a particular product and improve it accordingly.

IoT use cases in manufacturing (plus examples)

Some companies are already far ahead with IoT for manufacturing. Check out these popular use cases including examples of companies at the forefront of IoT manufacturing solutions:

1. Remote monitoring

Manufacturing companies can use IoT technology to monitor their products remotely. With sensors embedded in products, companies can collect data about how those products are being used. This data can be used to improve the design of future products, or to troubleshoot problems with existing products. For instance, portable toilets manufacturer Armal implemented real-time remote monitoring for its production machinery that enabled them to reduce energy costs by 40%.

2. Monitoring workers' health

Wearable devices are becoming increasingly popular as people look for ways to monitor their health and fitness. However, these devices are also finding a place in the manufacturing workplace. Smart wearables, which use IoT sensors to collect data, are being used to monitor workers' health and safety. The Ford Motor Company is one company that is using these devices to improve its assembly line workers' safety. The company has partnered with Ekos Bionics to produce exoskeleton vests that reduce fatigue, strain, and injury during assembly. The vests are equipped with sensors that track the wearer's movements and provide feedback to help them avoid risky posture. The data collected by the sensors is used to improve the design of the vest and make it more comfortable and effective for workers.

3. Cost reduction

IoT can help manufacturing companies reduce their operating costs. One good example is the Ford Motor Company again, which has installed smart lighting control in its factories. These systems use IoT to adjust light intensity depending on the natural lighting conditions, which has helped to cut energy costs.

4. Increased efficiency

Manufacturing companies can use IoT technologies to streamline their operations and enhance efficiency. By integrating their conveyor systems with IoT sensors, companies can gain real-time insights into the performance of their machines. This allows them to make necessary adjustments in order to avoid downtime. For example, Volkswagen integrated its conveyor systems with IoT sensors that manage belt tension. As a result, the company was able to reduce downtime from an hour to less than ten minutes. To help improve efficiency, Boeing has rolled out an enterprise sensor integration platform through Tapestry Solutions which is one of its subsidiaries.

5. Quality control

Quality control is vital because it ensures that companies deliver products that meet customer expectations. IoT can help manufacturing companies produce and deliver high-quality products to their customers. Tesla has installed IoT devices into the forklifts it uses to load and unload its cars onto trucks. The sensors inform employees of any malfunction or problem during the process. Employees don't have to inspect the vehicles loaded physically.

Challenges facing the adoption of IoT in manufacturing

Despite the massive positive impact on manufacturing, IoT has its challenges too. Here are the top challenges that manufacturers are likely to encounter in the course of implementing IoT.

1. High initial investment

Though IoT improves efficiency and reduces operational expenses, the cost of ownership, deployment, and support is significantly high. Setting up and maintaining this technology can be expensive at the beginning, and manufacturers must conduct a cost-benefit analysis to determine what kind of ROI to expect.

2. Connectivity

IoT relies heavily on the internet and company networks to transmit data. With many devices relying on connectivity, a network outage can halt critical operations and cause massive losses. Network coverage, internet speed, and storage capacity are other factors that may affect the connectivity. Manufacturing companies must therefore ensure they have reliable networks before considering IoT technology.

3. Data security

Cyber security trends show that challenges such as data breaches are on the rise and can have devastating effects on a company. IoT devices collect and transmit massive amounts of data, which attracts cybercriminals. Furthermore, data breaches affect both the manufacturers and customers, making data security one of the biggest challenges for IoT in manufacturing. Hackers could potentially gain access to sensitive data or take control of devices if security measures are not in place.

4. Skills gap

There is a huge shortage of technical professionals to design, deploy, and maintain IoT projects. This is mainly because IoT technology is new but growing rapidly, and finding qualified personnel is getting harder. Also, the demand for IoT projects is growing quickly, while the supply of qualified personnel is not keeping up. As a result, companies are having to pay more to attract and retain talent. This shortage is likely to continue in the short term, until the pool of qualified IoT professionals matches demand. Companies can overcome this challenge by outsourcing to IoT development companies which bring the benefit of practical experience and specialization.

5. Interoperability

One of the challenges of integrating IoT devices with other IT systems and infrastructures is the lack of standardization across IoT protocols and platforms. This makes it difficult to implement IoT solutions that can work with a variety of different devices and systems. Another challenge is the number of different types of IoT devices on the market, which can make it difficult to find compatible products and create a cohesive system.

6. Data analysis

Implementing an IoT solution means that you will be collecting voluminous data. You will therefore need tools for data acquisition, storage, analysis, and visualization, which can be a challenge for some manufacturers. IoT gateways, cloud-based analysis tools, sensors, and human-machine interfaces are all necessary for the data you collect to be helpful. Manufacturers can solve this challenge by constantly working with experienced partners.

Conclusion

IoT is influencing manufacturing in a big way, introducing new ways of running factories and supply chains. It's simply not possible to ignore this shift and the worst mistake is to be left behind by competitors. As a manufacturer, what's important now is to assess your processes and determine where you can immediately deploy IoT to improve your operations and be competitive. There is not much time left and soon those manufacturers who will not embrace IoT could be easily overtaken or rendered obsolete by IoT-conscious peers.

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