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Demystifying the industrial internet of things (IIoT)

The industrial internet of things (IIoT) underpins what many call the fourth industrial revolution, where hyperconnectivity enables unparalleled automation.

Demystifying the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)

The internet of things (IoT) is the internetworking of physical devices connected to the internet. Still, these wouldn’t ordinarily be computers. Instead, IoT devices typically serve a singular purpose, such as recording and relaying environmental information over the internet or allowing users to operate a machine remotely. Some common examples are smart home energy systems or entertainment systems like Amazon Alexa or Google Home.

The industrial internet of things takes this concept and applies it in a manufacturing context in a distributed network of smart sensors, actuators, and other devices. These allow for precise control and monitoring over complex machining processes over any distance. As a result, IIoT, along with artificial intelligence and machine learning, is one of the main drivers of what many are calling the fourth industrial revolution.

Why IIoT is important to manufacturers

In the manufacturing sector, numerous processes are repeatable and occur within a strict set of parameters. For these reasons, working on the average production line has often been characterised by tediously repetitive activities and a high risk of human error or machine failure.

IIoT promises to revitalise manufacturing operations by introducing the ability to monitor and automate all kinds of industrial processes and their outcomes. These solutions encompass a vast range of use cases, from predictive maintenance to enhancing worker protections on the shop floor.

The widespread implementation of these systems can transform the way manufacturers work. These benefits can resonate throughout supply chains, while a constant supply of data-driven insights informs smarter decision-making. Even for small machining shops, this can mean:

  • Improved energy efficiency
  • Reduced operational costs
  • Enhanced product quality
  • Less unscheduled downtime
  • Smarter decision-making

All of these benefits either directly or indirectly impact the company’s bottom line. For example, enhanced energy efficiency has become an essential part of a brand’s value proposition now that buyers are more environmentally aware. In another example, reduced operational costs can free up funding to research innovative new products or improve existing ones based on customer feedback. The opportunities are practically limitless, and IIoT is the foundation upon which they are all built.

What are the use cases for industrial IoT?

The innovative potential of industrial IoT is practically limitless. However, there are three main categories where this technology has shown extremely promising results in recent years. They are remote monitoring, predictive maintenance, and workflow automation. All these areas rely on a steady supply of data from things like sensors, actuators, and wearable tech.

That data can come from a huge variety of different sources, such as sensors connected to CNC machines, turbine engines, and pumps. However, machine data by itself doesn’t always tell the complete story. IIoT is about combining data from disparate sources to generate new insights and give engineers a comprehensive view of their workflows and the challenges they need to address. To create this value, though, IIoT must deeply integrate with enterprise resource planning (ERP) and other business systems and applications – as well as the sensors and other devices on the shop floor.

Here are some of the most popular use cases and applications for IIoT in manufacturing:

  • Production visibility: IIoT is all about connectivity. The myriad connected devices all feed into your ERP system to provide a constant supply of data, including performance metrics, resource consumption, worker productivity details, and more. In addition, connecting the entire factory gives administrators total visibility into their production lines.
  • Workflow automation: Repeatable processes can be automated to boost productivity and enhance efficiency. Using IIoT-enabled devices on the production line augments workers’ capabilities. For example, IoT-enabled pick-by-light systems can give workers real-time handling instructions. This is vital in modern agile, just-in-time manufacturing.
  • Quality control: IoT-enabled sensors allow manufacturers to check variables that are critical to the quality control process against a pre-established baseline. Implementing a robust quality control program requires consistency above all else, and consistency, in turn, depends on establishing a repeatable and ideally automated set of processes.
  • Resource optimisation: Reducing waste is a top priority in the manufacturing sector, hence the value of materials requirement planning (MRP) systems. IIoT takes MRP to the next level by providing complete visibility into resource consumption and revealing possible bottlenecks and determining overall equipment effectiveness (OEE).
  • Predictive maintenance: The risk of expensive breakdowns is a top concern for a lot of manufacturing administrators. However, IIoT can continuously monitor and relay critical information about the safe and sustained operation of particular machines. This gives decision-makers the chance to act fast if they see anything unusual.
  • Facility management: A fully connected shop floor is both more efficient and cheaper to operate. For example, sensors equipped with RFID tags can monitor space usage in warehouses and supply depots to provide insights on optimisation. The ability to monitor and control environmental variables remotely can also reduce operating costs.
  • Supply chain optimisation: IIoT sensors can enable the monitoring of events across the entire supply chain to provide real-time information on inputs, equipment, products, and more. This real-time monitoring gives decision-makers visibility into their inventories and establish more realistic timelines for materials availability and work in progress.

While it might still be early days for the widespread adoption of IoT in the manufacturing space, change is coming rapidly. Until recently, one of the most significant barriers to adoption has been the lack of sufficiently fast and secure, low-latency wireless networks. However, with the upcoming arrival of 5G networks, this will no longer be the case.

Already, companies like AE Aerospace in the West Midlands are innovating in the IIoT space by joining one of the UK’s 5G pilot projects. Operating a high-precision engineering facility and an ambitious growth strategy, the company plans to leverage IIoT to maximise machine time, optimise resource consumption, and eliminate the need for rework.

How to get started with IIoT

Perhaps the most common mistake people make with any digital transformation project is treating it like a destination rather than a journey. Instead, they should view it as a continuing process in which your systems and strategies continuously improve and adapt to shifts in demand. This methodology shouldn’t be any different when rolling out IoT. That is why the first step should be to implement a scalable, modular software-based infrastructure that you can connect your IIoT data sources to as and when you are ready to implement them.

Fitfactory provides technology services and solutions that help manufacturers modernise and scale with the ever-growing demand. Our Streamline, Connect, Analyse, Level-up, and Extend (SCALE) framework gives you a flexible model to sustainably grow your business using digital technology. Learn how we can help you introduce IoT to connect your business by speaking to a member of our team.

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At Fitfactory, we aim to bridge the gap between industry and technology to make digitalisation achievable for all. This is the second part of our demystify series as we break down complex topics to demonstrate how they can add value to your business. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be covering Big Data, Artificial Intelligence and more.

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