The Internet of Things (IoT) is slowly changing how we function every day. On the personal level, people now use internet-connected devices to monitor their home security, change their thermostats before they get home, and much more. But IoT has also changed the manufacturing sector, making it much easier and, in many cases, cheaper to make certain items than ever before. IoT devices can potentially transform a number of industries, improving manufacturing time and quality.
Most manufacturers have approached product creation on the batch level. This means they don’t really look at what it takes to make a single item; instead, they look at making batches of items. This is why many companies only sell items in packages of 50, 100, 500, etc. However, using automated systems made possible by IoT, smart manufacturing becomes a possibility.
Every part of the manufacturing process is connected. This means that as soon as an order is placed, the manufacturing control system kicks in and has the exact number of items pulled from the warehouse or, if needed, manufactured. These completed items are transferred to packaging, where they are packed up and labeled for shipment. Because all of the systems are interconnected, there are fewer boundaries between things like supply, orders, product design, operations, and customer management. Items can be manufactured and sold on a per-item basis without worrying about over-manufacturing. Because the system is more efficient, even items that once took a good amount of time to manufacture may be able to be made on demand.
These improvements occur in more places than product manufacturing, of course. These interconnected systems also make it easier to see when more raw materials need to be ordered, when more attention needs to be placed on shipping, and much more. The data gathered from these smart systems can be used to determine hiring needs, highlight growth potential, and locate areas that need to improve their efficiency.
This leads into data collection, another area in which IoT has greatly improved manufacturing facilities. No longer do separate systems have to be put into place to gather data. The interconnected IoT devices can gather information on materials, manufacturing processes, shipping times, inventory, sales, and much more, then analyze and filter the data as needed. This alone is a huge benefit to companies, especially those that have collected very little data regarding some parts of their manufacturing process.
Since the entire manufacturing process is connected to the internet, it can be managed from anywhere. This means that manufacturers can build plants in other countries to take advantage of tax breaks or decrease the raw material transportation time. Despite the fact that they are thousands of miles away, managers at the company operations center can view and even modify the processes at any plant anywhere in the world. This even allows them to do remote inspections. This is great for businesses that need to import rare, raw materials or need to make use of experts who do not want to relocate.
It also removes delays in increasing or decreasing quantity. Managers can see what each plant is producing at any given time, allowing them to make adjustments to their on-hand stock so as to not over-sell products.
Many employees get hurt every year while working in factories around the world. But, by using IoT and making more of the process automated, these workers will no longer have to take as many risks. For example, construction workers can use drones with cameras to get aerial views of a project rather than going up in cranes. They can also use drones to do some detailed work in small areas. Miners can make use of sensors to detect instability in mineshafts, allowing them to abandon or shore up the area before a disaster happens. Overall, IoT has greatly improved communications and made employees more aware of their work environment, which has led to an improvement in safety.
Businesses often focus on cyber security only in those areas that contain customer’s private information. They may not feel the need to as strongly protect the computer systems in their manufacturing plants, even if those systems contain their employees’ private information. However, when the entire plant is made up of IoT devices, cyber security is often improved. This means that their employees will be better protected, as will the entire factory. Backups, secure online systems, and more will provide protection and ensure that if a cyber-attack does occur, the plant is back up and running very quickly.