The IIoT assembly line: Getting a head start

Improving maintenance, operations among the most visible benefits.


Improving maintenance, operations among the most visible benefits. Courtesy: CFE MediaThe Internet of Things (IoT) movement has quickly connected our everyday devices, from our phones to cars and even our refrigerators. There's no doubt that the IoT is growing and expanding into new territories, especially within the world of machinery. The manufacturing industry is on the cusp of a revolution with the help of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Embracing the future of the IIoT will result in a working environment connected by sensors gathering useful data regarding equipment status, temperature conditions and current work progress, helping to improve the efficiency, safety and productivity of operations.

Why now? Manufacturers around the world are gaining more confidence in technology's abilities and believe it's time to invest. Smart manufacturing will allow for the monitoring of thousands of machines, equipment and more, both inside and outside of factories. The IIoT provides a new platform to integrate and store technology data, making it a big change and an even bigger value.

A recent report by McKinsey & Company's Global Institute revealed the IoT has a potential value ranging from $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion by 2025, or the equivalent of about 11% of the world economy. Estimates regarding the economic effect of the IIoT range from a conservative $500 billion in 2020 to an aggressive $15 trillion by 2030. All vertical markets within the industrial space are benefitting from connected technology implementation, with manufacturers predicting that IIoT initiatives will increase revenue 27.1% from 2015 to 2018.

Understanding the value of adopting a new technology is just as important as understanding its benefits, challenges and overall potential. As the industry knows, getting a head start on the constant and quickly-moving assembly line is important, and in this case will allow factories to advance their performance.

Increasing efficiency with IIoT

Many systems within a manufacturing plant are already intranet-connected, but a lot of the data collected from those machines never leaves the plant. IoT brings every piece of data together, making it a one-stop-shop for all machine maintenance and productivity reports. An Internet connection allows the critical data to be sent to supporting applications, analyzed and displayed on one dashboard, in any location, available when needed, and saved for future use. The transition to IIoT presents manufacturers with many benefits, including:

  • Visibility: The IIoT can bring real-time visibility into location and status of fixed and moving assets such as critical inventory, parts, equipment and goods in transit. For example, if a plastic injection molding company houses its polyethylene in a silo, sensors can be added to monitor inventory levels. The connected system can sense when it is running low and send an alert to the supplier to schedule a fill, limiting downtime. Data from multiple sites is aggregated on a common platform for centralized management and analysis.
  • Predictive maintenance: From cooling systems to production machinery, manufacturing equipment often requires regular maintenance. IIoT technology can be utilized to remotely monitor and alert to changes indicative of impending trouble. If a motor's temperature increases beyond a normal range or the vibration of a pump has changed, the trend will show in the data and the issue can be addressed before it becomes a disaster, avoiding expensive downtime. The IIoT makes maintenance service proactive, not reactive. Applying analytics to the machine data opens the ability to adopt a use-based maintenance methodology, saving time and money.
  • Improved operations: The ability to predict potential equipment failures and repairs minimizes the number of service calls necessary. Manufacturers utilizing IoT solutions in 2014 saw an average 28.5% increase in revenues between 2013 and 2014, according to a Tata Consultancy Services survey.

Deciphering the data

Adding new sensors throughout a factory that monitor and collect data 24/7 will create a better overall efficiency and productivity rate, but it will also create a massive database to sort through. In order to keep the new factory of information collected by the IIoT beneficial, manufacturers will need to determine which data is valuable for their efforts, and what outcomes can be derived from it. The outcomes then can be used to transform the manufacturing process, provide insights into processes that were previously difficult or impossible to see and make machines safer and more reliable. The ability to connect the entire conglomerate of plant information to a common data source changes the functionality of the entire facility.

The flexibility of today's monitoring and platform technologies ensures that any data monitored doesn't have to be permanent. IIoT allows for systems to be adapted to multiple applications, and each and every system can and should be molded and updated for differing factories.

Tinkering with adjustments

Adopting any new innovation comes with its own set of challenges, and the heavily connected nature of the IIoT will require a period of adapting. Three key challenges facing the IIoT include:

  • Security: Asset security is paramount in the minds of IIoT adopters. Cellular-based monitors function as a self-contained system, riding on the security of state-of-the-art cellular networking and data center management.
  • Flexibility: As new capabilities are added and system maintenance requirements change, monitoring systems will need to be continually modified and maintained. Yet, concerns over standardization quickly are mitigated as the Application Program Interface (API) is becoming commonplace, with tools and user interfaces developed for faster implementation. Device or system standardization barriers are removed by the creation of central data platforms that connect to a variety of data streams via API utilization.
  • Status quo: Cost will play a part as early adopters set out to make the transition to IIoT. As costs decline for equipment and data rates, the business case becomes viable on its own merit. Making the investment and taking the next step of linking data will only improve the return on investment.

Connecting the dots

The ability to connect, track and share every state of a bustling factory opens more doors than ever before. While implementing new technologies can seem risky, the IIoT presents manufacturers with a new confidence in their ability to predict service and maintenance needs at all points and times. As the IIoT becomes more easily available, productivity lines, machinery and companies will begin to harness the advantages, making now the ideal time to invest. The data analysis and tools make the IIoT's data source useful to manufacturers and large industries that are constantly working for better and safer efficiency. This unharnessed potential resolves issues of unplanned downtime, common malfunctioning issues and better controls production, resulting in higher profits and improved results.

Dan Yarmoluk is the business and market development lead for ATEK Access Technologies' IoT products which include TankScan and AssetScan. Yarmoluk has been involved in analytics, embedded design and components of mobile products for over a decade. 

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