Scientific innovation continually finds a home within manufacturing. From the very invention of the machine, to the introduction of 3D printing, manufacturing has taken on-board new ways of doing things that increase productivity, improve efficiencies, and increase employee engagement.
Manufacturing’s adoption of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is, therefore, a natural progression; set to transform the way we monitor, exchange, collect, and analyze – providing fresh insight into the production process that was previously utterly impossible.
What is IoT?
There was a time when the internet was an unknown quantity. Nobody thought it would catch-on; and very few of us expected it to deliver a revolution in the way that we shop, socialize, and meet each other.
But the internet has become so integrated into our lives that we often cease to recognize the technological magic that drives it.
Breaking it down to its most simplistic form, the internet is a network of computers. Those computers share data, translated into information that bespoke applications use to provide services for us. The Internet of Things embraces that communication protocol to spring functionality away from cyberspace and into the real world.
The Internet of Things (IoT) embraces the ability for machines to intercommunicate; applying that machine-to-machine (M2M) protocol to everyday objects, such as light bulbs, heating systems, refrigerators, and smart TVs.
A smart fridge, for example, can recognize that you’re running low on milk. It can connect to your local supermarket via their online shop and order more milk; entirely independently of you. That milk gets delivered. You never run out of milk. The Internet of Things.
You could be on your way home, and you want to arrive to a warm house. You use your smartphone to connect to your heating system, and you switch it on remotely. The Internet of Things.
The IIoT is an extension of that concept. Machines communicating independently of human interaction.
How Does it Apply to Manufacturing?
To create a product we might have hundreds of processes. Some of those processes are completed by hand, but many of those operations are executed by machine. Most machines require some human interaction, even if it’s just to monitor consistency of output.
Through those hundreds of processes, you create a product. That product goes through a checking system, a packing department, and is finally shipped off to suppliers. The end-to-end process is a symbiotic system of dependent operations.
The Problem With Processes
But the problem with processes, however, is that they’re disparate. Each operation is an individual cog in a much larger engine, and so simultaneously overseeing all of those processes is literally impossible.
Any system that incorporates lots of machines has the potential to collapse the entire function if a single cog in the wheel fails. And this accounts for missed deadlines, over-production, and the infamous seven wastes.
This is a little over-simplistic, surely?
Perhaps; but that’s the point. The IIoT is simply a way of networking our existing machinery together to gain an infinitely deeper understanding of efficiencies and potential failures; before they happen.
For 2020, the installed base of Internet of Things devices is forecast to grow to almost 31 billion worldwide. (Statista)
If your factory floor has eight principal machines, overseeing production means physically monitoring each device – all you can create is a disjointed picture of production. As soon as you’ve walked away from that machine, your up-to-date snapshot is history. It’s literally impossible to gain full oversight over procedures as they happen.
Machine monitoring systems facilitate M2M communication and are compatible with legacy machinery, so you don’t require brand new, digital machinery to gain a universal, real-time oversight of your entire production operations.
Once installed, machine monitoring provides a central hub, monitoring the productivity of all machines and operations across the factory floor, providing a real-time portal into the health of the production lines.
FreePoint has over 1,000 machines and 80 plants connected serving 1 billion data rows
And, thanks to the IIoT, the portal to your machine monitoring hub is available over smart technologies, such as mobile phones and tablets. You could be on the other side of the planet and (providing you have access to the internet) you can see exactly what is happening on your factory floor, and interact with those processes for afar.
So, the IIoT is Just a Network of Machines?
Exactly. But that’s just the start.
By combining M2M communication protocols, big data analytics, cybersecurity, and universal portal products compatible with a variety of smart technologies, the IIoT provides unprecedented efficiencies, performance, and productivity.
The IIoT uses its own communication transfer protocol, known as Message Queueing Telemetry Transport (MQTT), favored for its lightning speed, lightweight publish/subscribe model, as well as its bidirectional capabilities, enabling almost instantaneous two-way communication between all machines made ready for MQTT.
Incorporating GPS technologies, inventory can be tracked around the factory, providing a real-time image of your stock as it’s needed. Over-ordering of inventory items requires costly storage space, while under-ordering can slow down production. Having exact locational details of finished products in storage means more flexible use of space and easier access to those products when they’re ready to be shipped.
Predictive maintenance is a new protocol emerging from interconnected machine systems that allow managers to use the operational data produced by machine monitoring systems to predict the risk of failure assets, allowing them to reduce outage and maintenance costs.
The IIoT is here, and it can make colossal improvements in the way we work, increasing productivity, efficiency, and employee engagement in a way previously thought impossible.