Creating a Digital Nervous System with IoT for manufacturing
The Industrial Revolution sparked the dawn of a new era in the history of humanity back in the 18th century. It was a time when we shifted to machine-based tools for manufacturing instead of the traditional hand tools. This revolution changed the standard-of-living for the majority of the human population and the world’s leading economists still consider it as the most significant part of human history.
Today, in the 21st century, the machines which initiated the Industrial revolution have evolved, and so have the conventional manufacturing processes themselves. The industrial revolution has evolved through 4 phases, with the current being the Industry 4.0, an era of processes and systems interconnected with each other on common networks.
Today, we have come to a stage where manufacturing is controlled no just by hardware, but by wireless and virtual networks syncing with each other. With the Internet of Things (IoT), or more specifically the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), the amalgamation of hardware and software presents the world with new discoveries, ideas, and opportunities.
It is expected that the use of IoT in manufacturing will increase up to 3 times by the year 2020, with forecasts predicting a value of around $40 Billion for IoT in discrete manufacturing.
For those unfamiliar, IoT is a term used for referring hardware devices connected with each other on networks controlled through software on controller devices. It is specifically an extension to the Internet, not for the people, but for the machines.
So, what role does IoT development play in manufacturing and the Industry 4.0?
To start, let’s first discuss how manufacturing with IIoT really works. Hordes of sensors are connected to hardware devices, and each device on a network shares relevant data with each other. This entire process is controlled via a device/system at the hands of an experienced human analyst.
As an example, let us consider the case of Harley Davidson, one of the world’s leading and most renowned motorcycle manufacturers. At a time when individually customized motorcycles were gaining popularity, the company found it difficult to maintain a balance between mass production and personalized production with its existing manufacturing expertise.
To solve this problem, Harley Davidson leveraged IoT to connect hundreds of plant machinery and equipment to a single network. This interconnected network tracked the performance of each machine and simultaneously informed workers about the customization status of each individual order. The workers were able to control and gain access to everything through parent mobile devices connected on the network.
Also read: Top 5 Ideas for Industrial IoT development
As a result of using IoT to solve its manufacturing problems, Harley Davidson was successfully able to control its production lines and timely deliver specialized orders of its customers. Additionally, this new method of manufacturing reduced its costs by 7%, enhanced employee productivity by 2.4% and gained a 19% net margin!
Creating the Digital nervous system with IoT sensors
In the above example, we saw how IoT transformed the production process of Harley Davidson and help it maintain the perfect balance between mass and specialised production. The heart of this transformation and many similar IoT transformations are not the networks which connect devices, but the sensors which dig out relevant data from the devices, then send it throughout the network.
Sensors are at the core of IIoT transformation across all industries wherever it is applied. In addition to giving and receiving data, sensors also play a significant role in tracking location of devices, automating tasks of machines and in unique cases; for self-repairing and performing maintenance operations on the devices themselves!
It is these sensors and transmitter devices which create the nerves of an IoT network, thus enabling a digital nervous system connected with an entire manufacturing facility to direct its operations. In fact, such a system can even extend itself beyond the limits of a manufacturing facility. Companies such as CAT are already using IoT to track its transportation vehicles which go beyond plants and borders, and track location, inventory storage and much more through centralised controller devices.
The need for non-proprietary IoT systems
For an IoT nervous system to work at its full potential, IoT development companies need to use open-source technologies which are easily accessible and can be used with different types of services created by different manufacturers. Unfortunately, though, the reality is far from this utopian thought of open-source integration technologies.
With the urge to maintain profitability and lock clients/customers into an ecosystem of one specific brand of products/services, companies often develop and sell software/hardware incompatible with anything else except the original manufacturer. The most easily understandable examples of such practices can be taken from the mobile application development services industry. Device manufacturers such as Apple use proprietary hardware and software to force customers into an ecosystem of devices made by their company.
This is why in the world of consumer tech, users switching to Apple products often find it difficult to revert back to other platforms. Similar practices are already working in IIoT as well, which has still limited companies from leveraging IoT development to its fullest potential.
Also read: why IoT development in business
A digital nervous system within an organisation can only be made possible through an IoT network with non-proprietary nodes for interconnection. It is only then that various functions in manufacturing shall be able to integrate with each other and take a business to the highest levels of productivity and efficiency.
To conclude, a digital nervous system can take manufacturing to greater heights and guarantee a sustained competitive advantage. While the development of open-source systems is still in its nascent stages, now is the right, perhaps the perfect time for manufacturers to harness IoT and enhance their production bodies with this digital nervous system.