IoT, or Internet of Things, devices are wireless devices that connect via a network to communicate with one another. Companies are increasingly reporting that they consider IoT solutions to be beneficial to increasing the productivity of their employees. However, many of these companies, despite the expressed confidence in the technology, are not investing in implementing IoT in their processes.
Converting everything over to data-integrated manufacturing with IoT devices driving the change is expensive and will radically alter the way a manufacturing company operates. These can be difficult things to get shareholders or major stakeholders on board with.
In this post, we'd like to talk about what IoT is, how to used IoT solutions in manufacturing, and how you can maximize your ROI while minimizing your risk while you make the switch over to a more automated workflow.
If you found the definition at the beginning of the post a little vague, allow us to clarify what IoT devices are. They are very commonplace, so you've probably seen them before even if you didn't know what they are called.
A common example of an IoT device is a smart bulb in your home. When you tell Alexa or Google to turn on your smart bulb, two IoT devices are communicating with each other to automate a task in your daily life. Light bulbs and smart speakers are universally useful, but IoT devices can get very specific as well. So specific, in fact, that there is likely a wide variety of IoT devices on the market specific to your particular industry.
While there are likely devices specific to your industry that will allow your various processes to communicate with one another and more effectively automate your workflow, there are also more general-purpose solutions that apply to manufacturing processes more broadly. These solutions allow you to streamline your workflow, reduce human error, and seek out inefficiencies through the machine-learning analysis of the data that they collect.
Let's take a look at some of the ways that IoT technologies can aid in your company's digital transformation as you embrace the move to industry 4.0.
Bluetooth low-energy is similar to the Bluetooth technology that you use in your home, except that it uses significantly less battery power. This makes BLE ideal for manufacturing solutions because you can have a large number of devices without having to worry about constantly charging them or swapping out batteries.
As a tracking technology, BLE is more advanced than RFID, which cannot be tracked unless it is scanned. BLE is an IoT device—it will send its tracking information wirelessly to your software so that it is available in real-time without the need for human intervention or chokepoint-creating scanning stations.
One of the big advantages of IoT-based tracking is that any item that is tagged cannot be lost. Finding the item will always be as simple as opening a computer and searching for it. The uses of such technology are endless. You will be able to more accurately keep track of all your work-in-progress parts as they move through the various stages of manufacturing and storage.
If you have costly equipment that must be shared across a large facility by an equally large number of employees, then checking that equipment in and out, and ensuring that it doesn't get lost, becomes a lot easier. BLE powered tracking devices can even alert you if a piece of your equipment is leaving a designated area so theft and unauthorized use can be prevented.
IoT tracking can also be used on people. One of the biggest benefits of this is that IoT-enabled badges can completely replace your current time management solution. Your employees will no longer need to clock in or out because the platform will know that they are on the job as soon as they step into their designated work area with a badge on.
The use of the technology that we hope never has to be used is in regard to employee safety. Should an accident occur, it can be difficult to know where any employees that are not accounted for are located. They could be trapped and in danger and finding them may be difficult. If those employees are wearing IoT tracking badges, then finding them is easy and rescue efforts can begin promptly.
Tracking your assets as they move through the manufacturing process, or equipment loaned out to employees, isn't the only way that tracking can be beneficial. When materials need to be stored away, you need a reliable way to know exactly how many of which materials you have. Inventory management done manually is a time sink and prone to errors. But leveraging the power of IoT trackers allows you to automate your inventory workflow and get more reliable results that are always updated in real-time. You'll never again have to worry about over or under purchasing because of a bad inventory count.
IoT tracking devices allow you to mark where a device is in the manufacturing process. This will provide you with the greatest transparency about how your workflow is performing. By having a more granular look at how your manufacturing process is organized, you will get a quick heads up when problems occur, allowing you to more accurately convey to customers how long their orders should take before completion.
IoT devices are constantly recording data. In the case of IoT tracking, you will not only know the current location of a given asset, but its historic locations as well. Feeding all of this data into machine learning algorithms can provide you with some key insights about how your operation is running. The machine can learn (or be taught) which anomalies represent a problem and automatically alert someone so the problem is taken care of quickly. These algorithms can spot chokepoints that slow your productivity and give you a heads up so that you can make the changes necessary to resolve the problem. Perhaps a commonly used path takes a significantly longer time than a less commonly used one. Switching your flow up could lead to a significant boost in performance thanks to insights that otherwise would not have been available.
Click here to download our ‘What Lean Manufacturing Means in the Age of IoT’ white paper >
A functioning IoT implementation brings together several different aspects that will all work together to ensure that your productivity and user experience is maximized. These different parts should not be viewed in isolation, but rather as parts of a whole. The performance of one aspect can have profound impacts on the performance of the others.
Awareness that IoT-based manufacturing can improve your productivity is one thing, but the confidence that you can implement it seamlessly and affordably with your current workflow is another. This disconnect could be why businesses that are aware of the benefits haven't taken the step towards implementation yet. The fourth industrial revolution is upon us, though, and soon you'll need to begin your digital transformation in order to remain competitive. Here are 3 ways Kontakt.io can help give you the confidence you need to make that step.