IoT in Manufacturing

Manufacturing and IoT

In a highly competitive market, large manufacturers are looking to save every penny. IoT in manufacturing can greatly improve efficiency at all stages, whether it’s with regards to quality management, machine maintenance, supply chain management or overall productivity. Many large-scale manufacturers have already managed to successfully integrate IoT-enabled devices into their infrastructures. Thus optimising the production process, reducing delivery time and lowering a wide variety of expenses. While IoT incorporation may seem like a costly investment for big enterprises, one should bear in mind, that the potential of IoT-systems can be tested at a smaller-scale at any stage of the manufacturing process.

What are the actual benefits for manufacturers utilising IoT?

With all that said, it is no wonder that the Internet of Things in manufacturing is of great benefit for the manufacturers and their customers alike. Industrial IoT enables manufacturers to scale up different equipment, that is capable of distant observing and servicing the operation.

The core benefits of IoT solutions are:
Aids in the detection and prevention of issues or malfunctions that may cause delays in production.
Allows managers to gain insights and consequently better allocate resources, increase worker’s skills and ensure a safe working environment.
However effectively integrating IoT enabled devices into streamlined infrastructure is more challenging than it may seem. Large amounts of datasets collected by sensors also need to be correctly interpreted by other devices or operators. While there are many applications for IoT in manufacturing, 60% of IoT projects are doomed to fail during proof of concept.

There are two reasons companies fail with their IoT adoption:

Manufacturers likely lack the skillset needed to plan, build and maintain such systems. In this case, manufacturers may need to turn to platforms and outsource the task of developing a dedicated IoT application to non-engineers.
Many adoptions also don’t reach the desired ROI. Rather than completely covering the entire infrastructure with sensors, manufacturers should consider starting small with a specific area. Once a return on investment has been demonstrated, the plant managers may design to scale-up and incorporate IoT devices at other production stages.

All IoT approaches to specific problems seem excellent on paper, however, actually incorporating these systems remains a unique challenge for every manufacturer. Let’s identify the different areas of application of IoT enabled devices in manufacturing, in order to better understand the potential of this technology.

Improved production visibility

IoT can connect machinery, sensors and tools to provide engineers and production managers insights into current production. Manufacturers can track specific parts automatically as they move through the assembly line using RFID tags or brake beams. Additionally, by connecting IoT devices to the tools used by operators and to the machinery involved in the manufacturing process, IoT applications can provide plant managers real-time data about the team’s efficiency. With so much transparency identifying bottlenecks in the production process or troubleshooting, errors becomes much easier.

Increase operators’ productivity

Using IoT devices, operators are able to conduct their work much faster without sacrificing the work’s quality. One prime example of this is pick-to-light systems, an IoT solution that helps operators find pieces or parts they need much more quickly. Pick-to-light systems use lights to direct workers to certain locations, bins or warehouse shelves. These LED tracking components allow for a faster gathering of materials and also keep inventory up to date. Another example of IoT devices increasing the productivity of the plant’s workforce is IoT enabled power tools, such as torque drivers, which will automatically adjust its settings to fit the next operation.

Predictive Maintenance

By installing IoT sensors at all stages of the manufacturing process, operators can obtain valuable maintenance data.  They can not only monitor their machines, but also OEE (overall equipment effectiveness) and OPE (overall process effectiveness), all in real-time. Tracking those metrics allows manufacturers to identify and fix issues that may cause unplanned downtime.  Many essential machines are designed to function at a specific temperature and vibration range Realtime data about temperatures, voltages, currents etc. enables operators to accurately judge the current condition of their machines. The maintenance need can now be accurately predicted and thus automated, foreseeing functional failures long before they happen. It also reduces maintenance costs, because maintenance is only done when and where it is needed the most. Being able to plan maintenance operations reduces downtime and thus increases the overall productivity of the workforce.

Decreasing QMS costs

QMS (Quality management systems) are difficult and expensive to integrate and maintain. IoT solutions may help reduce the cost of these systems by streamlining and automating the process control plan. Through the use of sensors, manufacturers are able to efficiently check the variables that are most critical to the overall quality of the product. This reduces the time and resources required to work the QMS since manually performed quality inspections are now a thing of the past.

Improved facility management

Effective use of IoT-enabled sensors in manufacturing facilities drastically improves the management and thus reduces the operational costs of every factory. Using RFID tags, for example, manufacturers can gain more insights to help them optimise their use of space. Another way plant managers can better manage their facility through IoT is by closely monitoring environmental factors, such as temperature and humidity

Optimising the supply chain

IoT sensors make it possible to monitor a product at all stages across the supply chain and provide real-time information about equipment and products. RFID tags and other devices can be utilized to track inventory as it moves around the supply chain. Thus manufacturers gain insights into inventories. When will all materials and resources be available to start producing the next batch of products? Using the data gathered by IoT enabled sensors, manufacturers can identify dependencies or bottlenecks, map out the flow of materials and track the times of manufacturing cycles.