The Internet of Things is something I remember hearing about from movies as a kid. While it’s not as flashy as I once thought it was, it is definitely useful in many environments – including the manufacturing environment. The internet of things will come to define the productivity in plants in the very near future. In my opinion, businesses that do not begin investing in implementing the internet of things will regret it in the future. But why is the Internet of Things going to change the face of the manufacturing industry?
What is the internet of things?
The internet of things is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a network of connected devices that are all able to sense the surroundings in some way, and transmit this sensor data to one another. While this doesn’t seem particularly useful, let’s take a moment to think about that.
Imagine the power behind a device being able to communicate with another one. You’ve probably already seen great examples of this in your day to day life. From your phone connecting to your vehicle to play your favorite music and your fitbit tracking your steps and sending them to a smartphone app. But there’s some powerful automation tools at play here that we can use in the manufacturing industry as well.
Device communication, so what?
Let’s dive into the manufacturing implications of the Internet of Things, or IoT for short.
Within manufacturing, there’s a lot of control elements that are crucial in ensuring an efficient and effective process.
These control variables are currently monitored by sensors in most cases and sometimes only by the operators running the machine. These sensors will report to the operator about the current state of whatever variable they’re designed to monitor: temperature, weight, dimensions, etc.
Here is where it starts to get interesting. At this point in the process, the operator is likely responsible for making the set point change to correct the sensor’s reading.
This isn’t bad, as long as your operators know what they’re doing. If they don’t, then they’re going to have to play with the controls long enough to figure out the issue. All the time while products that are out of spec are being made.
But what if we could replace these human readable output sensors with Internet of Things sensors?
Using IoT Sensors in manufacturing
The internet of things would allow instant set point changes to the process upon the product being read by the sensor. This is powerful.
Not only that, but they would eliminate all kinds of problems within a manufacturing line. Disturbances in feed material / upstream processes, operator errors, and lack of performance metrics would be thing of the past.
These concepts are best explained by an example, so let’s go through one.
The Operator Decides the time spent in the ‘No’ loop
As Raw materials are processed and sent to a quality check, the first batch of items will inevitably be out of spec. There’s usually no way around this in a high volume manufacturing environment. A wide variety of reasons cause this. Setup variations, product variations, feed stock variations. There’s just so much to account for whenever you first begin running product.
I can not stress the following point enough, the operator’s knowledge of the system will be the determining factor on how long it takes for this loop to be broken and begin making regulation products.
In a lot of industries, this is fine. Operators in long term positions probably know exactly what to do to get a system back on target variables – better than any manual or book (and probably supervisors if you’re reading as one.)
But these operators aren’t going to be around for forever. As more young people enter the work force, this is going to change immensely from what it has been in the past.
Workers today are not looking to spend countless years working a single position. The job time averages continue to go down each year as more young people continuously switch jobs throughout their career. You’re not always going to have that 30 year vet working on your production floor. And you need to prepare for this now while he’s still here.
Why IoT will change the manufacturing industry
Rather than depending on operator knowledge, which will soon not be there. Why not remove this dependency and replace it with smart tech tools?
The IoT not only allows you to create small incremental changes to your process settings as the data is received at the quality sensor, these data can be used with something called Machine Learning.
In a very brief explanation, machine learning is teaching a computer how to react to new inputs.
Today, it is possible to build a manufacturing line which auto controls itself – modifies settings to account for disturbances, start ups, hiccups, etc – and gather valuable data.
This valuable data can then be used by your business to address future production needs.
Key points to take away
- Operator knowledge is not always going to be on your manufacturing floor – you need to begin building systems which can account for this.
- The work force is not going to be as consistent as what your business is designed for currently. New talent will come, but they’ll not have the same level of understanding of your systems as the last generation of workers amassed.
- Tech tools will define new business, Old School manufacturing will be a thing of the past.
- IoT sensors will build a data collection network that you can begin your data analytics journey with. This can be the backbone of implementing machine learning later down the road for increased optimization.