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Determining the Value of IoT in Manufacturing

By: Dan Johnson

The Internet of Things. Everybody’s talking about it but few fully understand what it is and what it can do. So exactly what is the Internet of Things -- or IoT -- and what can it do for manufacturers?

The IoT in manufacturing is a network of devices and machines – everything from sensors to vehicles, actuators to production line machinery. All of these things are commonly referred to as “connected devices.” The IoT enables all of these objects to be sensed, monitored, and controlled remotely across existing internal and external networks.

Manufacturers are now beginning to tap into a new generation of systems that enables real-time, autonomic interactions among sensors, machines, devices and other assets. As a transformative IT element, the IoT is enabling a new level of monitored and managed manufacturing -- helping companies improve operations and productivity, manage supply chains, and adopt predictive maintenance to optimize performance.

A recent study by the MPI Group revealed that 76 percent of manufacturers will increase their smart device and embedded intelligence use in their manufacturing processes over the next two years. Fifty-eight percent said that improving product quality is the most important objective for doing so. 

All of this is well and good, you might be thinking, but what does the IoT really mean to our manufacturing operation and how do we derive real value from it? Forty-four percent of respondents to that study indicated their biggest obstacle to leveraging the IoT in manufacturing is their company’s limited knowledge of how the IoT can improve operations and products. The solution starts with reframing our thinking about the IoT.

The lifeblood of the Internet of Things is not the physical network of interconnected devices whirring away. It’s the data generated by these devices and how it can be used. The sad reality is that many companies are already collecting terabytes – even petabytes – of data, but they are simply unable to harvest knowledge and insights from it in any meaningful way. 

It’s important to formulate questions about all that data: What is it? Where does it come from? How do we want to use it to achieve our goals, and how do we think the IoT can address all this in a way previously unavailable to us?

Once you have answers to these questions, it’s critical to determine how you’re going to capture this data in a structured way that will enable your company to effectively consume and utilize it. Why is this important? Because the relatively unstructured nature of the IoT in manufacturing enables data to be viewed and understood differently every time you look at it unless you apply structure to it.

All of this previously unharvested data now has value and can be consumed and utilized across multiple platforms, enabling you to effectively integrate and control connected devices, systems, and processes. In this new age of manufacturing, physical objects and information will be highly integrated, compliments of the Internet. Every appropriate object across the supply chain can now share and receive context-specific information for performing a particular task to streamline and optimize manufacturing.