As the fourth industrial revolution progresses, manufacturing technology is becoming a hive.
Fortunately, that’s a lot less scary than it sounds. In this hive, humans are still the queen bee. However, as more equipment is given a network connection, the role of those humans is shifting toward bigger-picture duties.
Some experts suggest that the Internet of Things (IoT) could add as much as $6 trillion to the global economy within the next five years. For perspective, that’s enough $100 bills to fill 27 Olympic-sized swimming pools—and make Scrooge McDuck very happy.
The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) figures to be a significant part of that value, thanks to a growing slate of incredible practical applications.
What is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?
The concept is as simple as it sounds. In order to be considered part of the IoT, an object must:
- Have a built-in network connection.
- Be a thing.
In the context of the IIoT, the “things” are manufacturing equipment, vehicles, sensors… in essence, anything that contributes to production. In some cases, even the products themselves are part of the IIoT.
Communication between a massive army of these network-connected objects opens the door to a broad slate of practical applications. Here are the top five…
5. Utility Automation
As a starting point for this concept, think about those sensors that cause the lights to switch on when you walk into a room, or that cause an air conditioner to switch on when the room rises to a certain temperature.
If those types of sensors become integrated into the IIoT, they can send spates of data to a central location (such as the number of people in a room, and weather conditions).
That data allow a cognitive processing unit to make decisions on how to optimize things like lighting, heating and electricity consumption on the whole. Employers will finally be able to end the fight over the office thermostat!
This also has safety implications, such as the ability to help regulate maximum occupancy under fire code.
4. Remote Machine Access
This probably seems obvious, but the ability to access and operate a machine remotely (or adjust its automated operation remotely) is incredibly convenient for mechanical engineers. These engineers can access machines from several different plants from a single location, which can reduce or eliminate the need for costly and time-consuming cross-country travel.
3. Asset Tracking
As a starting point for this concept, think about “Find my iPhone,” only in this case, it’s “Find my turbofan jet engine,” or whatever other part you’re tracking.
If a part, machine or vehicle can be integrated into the IIoT, it can be monitored using GPS tracking. There are dozens of benefits to collecting this type of data, but one major example lies in supply chain optimization.
For instance, asset tracking might reveal that certain parts are typically idling at a given location for a significant period of time. If that’s the case, managers can take note, find ways to expedite that step in the process and optimize the supply chain.
2. Predictive Maintenance
Downtime can be one of the biggest profit-eaters in manufacturing.
When it comes to certain large, expensive pieces of equipment (think industrial centrifuges or heat exchangers), it doesn’t make sense for a manufacturer to have more than one. So if it goes down, the entire operation will bottleneck or grind to a halt.
However, if that equipment can transmit data on how it’s performing, it could throw up red flags and effectively say, “hey, I’m pretty tired, guys” far before it ever breaks down. Engineers can time and execute predictive maintenance accordingly.
This also opens the door for incredible customer service. If a car’s transmission or alternator is on its last leg, the manufacturer can alert the consumer before they end up stranded in a parking lot and waiting for a tow truck to arrive.
1. Logistics Management and Optimization
When thousands of smart devices of all shapes and sizes are perpetually spitting fountains of data at your company, it opens the door for analytics to become your MVP.
If you can analyze data about which transportation route is the most fuel-efficient on average, you can cut costs.
If you can process mountains of data on your equipment and get to the bottom of why certain equipment is breaking down faster than others, you can extend the lifespan of your machinery, and cut costs.
If you can track human error rates in correlation with a litany of contributing factors… well, you get the point.
The data flowing in from IIoT devices can help businesses streamline their operations on a level that could never be possible without it.
But there’s a catch…
The benefits of the IIoT are seemingly endless, but the fourth industrial revolution comes with one major Achilles heel: Anything hooked up to the Internet is vulnerable to being hacked.
Your office smart-fridge might be the last way you’d ever suspect a cybercriminal to monitor your office chatter and steal company secrets. And if they gain control of your assembly line’s robotic arms, they could do a lot of damage.
But while we’re certainly living in a wild world, Marco’s managed IT security services can help you cover these kinds of random vulnerabilities, keeping your business running as safely as ever. Contact us today to learn more.