In recent years, the Sci-Fi nightmare where robots take over the world has given way to the exciting prospect of using digital automation for wide sweeping improvements to the way we live and work.
Rather than completely replacing a human workforce, industrial automation is increasingly freeing people from many mundane and repetitive tasks, and shifting their focus to more skilled roles.
This brings with it a far greater need to attract recruits who have completed STEM studies. These are the data programmers and analysts who make automation and connectivity possible. The word “connectivity” is highly significant, because the basis of increased data management – and therefore automation – is the Internet of Things (IoT).
The IoT is the growing ability to digitally connect devices such as computers and sensors, in order to collect and measure data on a micro level. It is also how instructions can be passed onwards, to affect and control change, anywhere on the planet!
<b>IoT device boom</b>
IoT devices – many relying on Artificial Intelligence – are springing up everywhere and are increasingly used to monitor and control aspects of our daily lives. You may well have Siri, Cortana or Alexa doing your bidding without giving it a second thought.
The potential business applications of IoT devices are limitless. For example, farmers can now measure an individual cow’s movements, consumption and yield, to find ways to improve their productivity. Medical device companies are looking at ways to create ever more advanced implants, to not only monitor bodily functions and medical status, but also to automate the delivery of drugs.
The IoT is a major factor in the Big Data phenomenon. Our global ability to gather and sort vast data sets grows exponentially as we invent new gadgets and software to measure and communicate digitally.
By 2017, it is believed there were already 8.4 billion connected and internet-ready devices in the world. This is set to grow to 20.4 billion IoT devices by 2020, according to research and advisory company Gartner. (source: https://www.zdnet.com/article/iot-devices-will-outnumber-the-worlds-population-this-year-for-the-first-time)
Another report puts the 2018 global value of IoT at $151 billion. It forecasts that this figure will grow to $1,567 billion by 2025. (source: https://iot-analytics.com/state-of-the-iot-update-q1-q2-2018-number-of-iot-devices-now-7b)
<b>Manufacturing IoT technology</b>
Designing, programming and manufacturing IoT devices is a massive growth sector in engineering and manufacturing terms. This is stimulated by insatiable demand for new applications of the technology involved, particularly from manufacturing, automotive, retail and health-related businesses.
In the UK alone, the Centre for Economics and Business Research (Cebr) believes Big Data analytics and the IoT will add approximately £322 billion to the economy by 2020. (source: https://www.sas.com/en_gb/offers/16q1/cebr-big-data-internet-of-things.html)
However, manufacturers of all types and sizes will increasingly need to grasp the IoT to remain competitive. No one is immune.
<b>Data management transformation</b>
In a nutshell, the IoT will bring the world to your office, but it will also provide greater transparency, analysis and control of your manufacturing equipment, people and processes. IoT connected devices will continue to develop new ways to collect data at a sub-level, beyond anything we could have previously imagined. Fortunately, data science is developing alongside the IoT, providing ever more sophisticated algorithms to help analyse the oceans of information it can generate.
Manufacturers will not only have access to more information, but also the ability to measure it – and exert control – across the entirety of their production processes. This provides the ability to become more customer-centric, feeding end user data back into your manufacturing systems far more quickly and seamlessly.
As an illustration, in the future it will be possible for a manufacturer to get detailed data from their supply chain, including the status and location of raw materials with pinpoint accuracy. Or, they will be able to time the arrival of components sent for contracted laser cutting to the minute. These components can then be monitored and measured through inventory control, to production usage. From there, finished products will be monitored carefully as they leave the warehouse.
Using data from customer satisfaction levels, it will be possible to create a matrix of components to show which ones worked best, on every level of your business operations. The IoT is also taking general facility and asset management to a whole new level, including providing insights into the interrelationship between your machines and the employees who use them. From this, manufacturers will be able to extrapolate detailed analysis of people and machinery, to show how accurate they are in meeting cost, time and quality targets.
The IoT is clearly going to provide ever more fertile ground for continuous improvement, enabling you to work quicker, cleaner and more cost-effectively. Not least as the data provided will fuel greater robotic and automation capabilities within production, as well as in maintenance and repairs.
<b>IoT for global connection</b>
Beyond its abilities to generate ever more micro data on your manufacturing activities, the IoT makes the world smaller too. For example, from an engineering perspective, the IoT opens up rich possibilities for monitoring, measuring and managing facilities and structures from afar.
With IoT sensors on a bridge being built in Beijing, your project manager gets real-time data to work with while they are in your office in Basingstoke. They could use this detailed information for predictive analysis, project planning or to create simulations for training purposes.
They can also use the data to communicate with your production line, to control the manufacture of structural components or to adjust timescales.
<b>Driving change, or left behind</b>
In the near future, there will be nowhere in the world – nor in your own manufacturing facilities or supply chain – left uncovered by IoT. You will be able to interrogate and control information remotely and automatically, anywhere.
In effect, the IoT puts you firmly in the driving seat across your entire manufacturing landscape. Not exploring the potential of the IoT for your business will leave you playing catch up, with all the commercial risk that involves.