77% of surveyed manufacturers have implemented an IIoT solution, with 20% more planning to do so

Manufacturing is in the middle of a fourth industrial revolution, also called Industry 4.0. The third industrial revolution was all about digital technology, and Industry 4.0 takes this to a new level through interconnectivity and data-centric processes. The IIoT is the primary driving force behind this movement.

Not all manufacturers use the IoT, but most now do. One study found that 77% of surveyed manufacturers have implemented an IIoT solution, with 20% more planning to do so. Here’s how and why the industrial IoT is driving this sector.

IoT devices have a wide range of uses, but perhaps most important to manufacturers is their ability to gather data. Every IoT sensor gives manufacturers another point where they can acquire data. They can then feed this information into AI algorithms to produce actionable insights about their operations.

For example, Harley-Davidson implemented IoT devices in one of their manufacturing plants to reduce product cycle times. Referencing data from these gadgets, they reconfigured the facility to enable a new and improved workflow. Afterward, a process that once took 21 days took just six hours.

AI can find connections between data points that humans might miss. As a result, it produces potentially counterintuitive insights that lead to remarkable savings. For these systems to work, though, they need a lot of data, and the IoT provides it.

One of the most common use cases for the industrial IoT in manufacturing is location tracking. In a large warehouse or factory, it’s not always easy to know where everything is. Being able to track parts and products through the IoT eliminates that problem.

Workers can spend as much as 47% of their time looking for the tools or parts they need. If everything was part of an IoT management system, employees could locate items instantly. These tracking capabilities have saved some manufacturers as much as $3 million a year in preventing lost time.

Manufacturers implement location-tracking IoT services outside the facility, too. As of last year, 70% of manufacturing companies used IoT technology in their supply chains. Tracking shipment location and product quality helps anticipate departures from schedules and proactively adjust to any disruptions.

Unplanned downtime from equipment failure is a costly and too-frequent problem in manufacturing. On average, machine downtime costs $250,000 an hour in lost productivity, and 82% of companies have experienced it in the past three years. Now, many manufacturers are turning to the industrial IoT for solutions.

In a practice called predictive maintenance, manufacturers place IoT sensors in machines to predict when they’ll need repair. These sensors analyze data like heat and vibrations to alert workers when equipment is close to malfunctioning. They can then fix these machines before they break down, avoiding downtime and more expensive repairs.

Before the IIoT, many manufacturers relied on maintenance schedules to prevent breakdowns. Since some machines need maintenance more frequently than others, this approach doesn’t always work. IoT-based predictive maintenance accounts for varying needs between equipment as well as unexpected problems.

Not all IIoT use cases in manufacturing require industry-specific technologies and services. In many cases, the same devices smart home users enjoy can provide valuable data to manufacturers. This is perhaps most evident in energy waste reduction.

As early as six years ago, 77% of manufacturing companies relied on utility bills to measure their energy consumption. Now, more and more facilities have turned to IoT devices like smart thermostats to measure and reduce electricity usage. Not only do these devices report accurate real-time data, but they can also adjust automatically, ensuring manufacturers only use as much energy as they need.

Since the industrial sector accounts for 32% of energy consumption in the U.S., any improvement in this area is welcome. Savings from these devices may seem small day-to-day or even month-to-month, but they add up over time.

The manufacturing industry has become increasingly automated over the years. As these facilities introduce more autonomous machines, the need for interoperability rises. The IIoT can provide that.

One of the primary drawbacks of automation is that it’s typically not as flexible as human workers. If an issue occurs early in a workflow, autonomous machines down the line may not notice or understand it and won’t adjust accordingly. As a result, any disruptions in an automated line have a tremendous ripple effect. IIoT networks can help.

If all the machines in a warehouse could communicate with one another, they could respond to disruptions in real-time. IIoT connectivity would enable automated lines to adapt to changes as quickly and effectively as people. As 5G networks provide higher throughput and lower latency, these kinds of systems become more feasible.

Despite these tremendous advances and adoption rates, the industrial IoT is still relatively young. Industry 4.0 only recently began, and as more manufacturers embrace these technologies, new use cases and methods will arise. IoT connectivity has already disrupted the industry, but it will likely transform it entirely in the future.

As the benefits of the IIoT become more evident, more manufacturers will adopt it. With wider implementation, these technologies will advance faster. In just a few years, manufacturing could look like an entirely different industry, thanks to the IIoT.

Source: Manufacturing Logistics IT

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