They’re calling it Industry 4.0. It’s the concept of the connected factory: the flourishing of a consolidated, connected, and flexible way to organize manufacturing operations. These innovations relate primarily to how machines are able to communicate with one another on the factory floor, increasing the efficiency of data flow and cross-device functionality. In short, it’s leveraging technology to create a better factory. Here are a few key ways in which IoT connected factories are changing and disrupting manufacturing.
Most factories today have machines that operate in isolation. This machine performs function X, and that machine performs function Y. The challenge becomes collecting meaningful data about the factory ecosystem. Which machines are working optimally and which need maintenance? This sort of information is critical for factory managers making decisions about performance and output.
The arrival of low-cost, low-powered Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) platforms allows those in charge to make decisions based on real-time insights and patterns. Imagine a factory manager with wearable technology connected to every machine on the factory floor. The device notifies them immediately of any irregularities in the manufacturing process, suggests solutions and even automatically implements solutions based on previous patterns of data.
And none of this needs to cost a fortune. It’s possible to connect systems and machines to the internet and each other with super affordable sensors and intelligent gateways. These tools collect and process data and generate actionable insights. Smart controllers are another important tech, enabling machines and robots to talk to each other, configure themselves, and drive automation.
In the manufacturing world, greater efficiency means greater profits. Downtime is the frustrating antithesis of this. Connected factories will keep this to an absolute minimum through the constant monitoring of equipment. This allows equipment failure or breakdowns to be pre-empted and, if engineers are only sent to essential areas, maintenance costs are reduced. This is far more efficient than the traditional maintenance approach which often means shutting down part or all of the production line so that equipment can be evaluated and repaired manually.
A major force behind the proliferation of the Industrial Internet of Things, alongside massive funding from both governments and private investors, is the potential for scalability. With their inability to exchange data and communicate, disparate systems present a barrier to expansion. But, while much of the technology behind connected infrastructure is complex, consolidated and connected systems actually simplify functionality and scalability.
The trick lies in consolidation from a central console. Having everything automated and regulated from a central hub makes it easier to control and manage everything. And if it’s easier to manage, it’s easier and less intimidating to scale. The simplicity of it all makes it a more attractive prospect and encourages growth.
This centralized control of a factory’s infrastructure and the merging of vast amounts of data is not without its risks. Tighter security software are likely going to be the result of these risks. Implementing and updating security software as well as ensuring data encryption are going to be enormous features of modern connected factories.
Currently, 62 percent of American manufacturers rely on pen and paper to track the stages of the manufacturing process. This is obviously enormously inefficient and susceptible to human error. The imminence of connected factories means that this figure is likely to drop to 25 percent within 5 years. As a factory manager, if your factory isn’t changing, it’s likely to face extinction by sheer efficiency.
Interested in how the internet is making connectivity a word synonymous with the future? Have a look at our recent article which talks about other implications the IoT may have on business.