What can manufacturers gain from a digitally connected world? A whole lot.

July 10, 2018 Sumesh Chawla

Smart devices and the Internet of Things (IoT) are transforming every aspect of our lives — the way we communicate with one another, shop, pay bills, activate appliances and secure our homes. Likewise, connected devices are becoming a part of every kind of business, with practical uses in healthcare, finance, technology, real estate, retail and more. The opportunities are endless, and the manufacturing industry is no exception.

Gartner estimates that by 2020, there will be 20.4 billion connected devices — and these devices are also interconnected; that is, they share data and “speak” to one another machine-to-machine (M2M). So what are some ways that manufacturing companies can take advantage of IoT to improve operations and create more value?

Get behind ‘smart manufacturing’ and ahead of the curve

The opportunities abound for injecting smart technology into manufacturing operations — and it’s okay to start small. In the frequently discussed but marginally understood framework of “smart manufacturing,” there is very little “extra” that manufacturers need to do in order to get started. Smart manufacturing, quite simply, is about taking data that manufacturers can easily collect through readily available technologies, and serving it up to employees in the right format and with the optimum level of detail for them to perform their jobs more efficiently, accurately and proactively than ever before.

This is all part of a greater phenomenon within the field of manufacturing referred to as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), whose components include: intelligent assets (smart sensors and devices), a cloud-based data communications infrastructure, analytics and people.

Embrace the practical applications of IoT – at your own pace (but soon)

Though “smart manufacturing” is an emerging term that many manufacturers have heard about, the implications, uses and technologies can seem overwhelming for organizations that are just getting started with M2M applications in their business. Here are just a few example areas where IIoT can quickly make a big impact on overall operations and the bottom line.

Equipment Maintenance: Adding data-gathering sensors to equipment allows manufacturers to monitor the health and status of each asset, track potential problems and mitigate equipment failures and safety risks before incidents occur. With data collected automatically per a predefined schedule, manufacturing leaders are in the best possible position to avoid operational interruptions or delays — and ultimately, save time and maintenance costs.

Supply Chain Management: While the applications for IoT within the supply chain abound, some of the key areas include asset tracking, vendor relations, equipment maintenance (discussed above) and inventory and fleet management. Within this area, Conduent is testing a fleet management platform that uses IoT, advanced analytics and state of art machine learning techniques to collect data and conclude meaningful descriptions of the patterns observed. From there, it recommends actionable insights for maintenance, planning and operational personnel to improve the life of the fleet.

The Conduent Fleet Management platform, currently deployed in one major U.S. city, automatically captures data from different sensors in vehicles and correlates it with the data from preventative maintenance records, terrain, traffic congestion, weather, etc. to provide a holistic understanding of the current health of the vehicle and the remaining useful life of critical components. Through this data, maintenance personnel can make better decisions to optimize the cost, resources and planning of the maintenance activities and ensure a greener, safer and more cost-effective commute to the users.

Smart Energy Management: According to Alliant Energy, the industrial sector accounts for approximately 31 percent of all energy consumption in the United States — consuming just over 21,000 trillion Btu annually — and much of this energy is used for manufacturing processes. Energy management is arguably one of the simplest ways that manufacturing facilities can use IoT to their advantage. From automatic light-sensor technology to HVAC controls to the ability to remote-control every “on and off” switch on the plant floor, smart energy-controls can have a major impact on a plant’s environmental footprint, corporate social responsibility goals and bottom line.

Predictive Analytics: In all of the scenarios and examples above, the most important element of IoT in manufacturing — or in any business — is the data itself. With up-to-the-second data on production, employee timecards, plant-specific energy use, equipment malfunctions, parts replacement schedules and more, manufacturers have a complete picture of their entire operation.

This data helps manufacturers predict future equipment failures before they happen and, through prescriptive analytics, plan ahead for spare supplies and potential downtime.

Migrate more of your business to the cloud for greater efficiencies

As manufacturers embrace IoT connected devices, they need a place to send, store and process all of the information generated by those connected things talking to one another. This recent article from Network World discusses some of the most popular enterprise-scale IoT platforms and offers key factors to consider. Of course, smaller businesses can easily embrace more dev-style platforms such as Amazon web services or Microsoft Azure for IoT support.

With a solid foundation in place, OTA (Over the Air) equipment updates can be made at the click of a button — and with zero downtime, allowing for greater efficiencies at scale and a differentiated customer experience. A great example of this is GE’s WiFi Connect appliances. GE is a huge consumer brand but any brand can benefit from this lightning-speed access to the latest technology updates.

In 2018, industries are expected to spend $189 billion on IoT solutions in manufacturing. This opens up a whole new world of application possibilities for industries nationwide and across the globe. At Conduent, we’re excited to continue working with our manufacturing customers — and all of our customers — to help them embrace new technologies and transform their operations through digital interactions.

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Concerned about cybersecurity on your IIoT connected devices? We are too. Stay tuned for a future post to learn what Conduent is doing to address this important issue.

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