3 Key Ways the Internet of Things is Reshaping Manufacturing

Mark Dohnalek  |   June 07, 2017

For the average consumer, the internet of things (IoT) likely brings to mind products like smart refrigerators, learning thermostats, and of course, the original internet-connected “thing”: the smartphone.

While these products – as well as the countless more that are either on the market or in development – have made a big impact on our daily lives, perhaps no other area has seen as great of an impact from the IoT as the manufacturing industry.

To say that the IoT is changing how manufacturing is done would be an understatement. It’s more accurate to say that it’s reshaping the industry as a whole. Here are 3 key ways that the IoT is revolutionizing manufacturing.

Logistics is getting both smarter and far more complicated. 

As connected devices become both smarter and more widespread, the raw materials that are part of a producer’s supply chain are becoming more and more trackable.

Instead of using the simple barcode scanning system that has been used to track inventory for decades, progressive logistics companies are using new methods that allow for specific location tracking of specific items.

For example, RFID tags, which can be attached to individual units of raw material, can provide the exact location of that unit and transmit it to its destination manufacturer. This allows the manufacturer to create far more accurate timelines, ultimately reducing waste and increasing their customer satisfaction.

Satellite trackers are another frequently used method for tracking items around the world – even in areas that have no internet connectivity or even cell service.

So how does this make things more complicated? Manufacturers and those managing the supply chain must figure out how to coordinate the massive amounts of available data so that this data can smooth out and speed up processes – not clutter them up.

Real-time data analysis allows for real-time improvements.

While automation has saved manufacturers billions of dollars and thousands of hours over the past few decades, it’s never been able to provide real-time insights to improve efficiency.

Now, that’s changed. Connected machinery is able to feed data into computer systems in real time, which is then analyzed in real time. The technicians or system operators who are managing those computer systems are then able to make any necessary adjustments immediately. In many cases the systems are themselves capable of making those adjustments, any time they detect aberrations or values that are not optimal.

This means that manufacturers can address problems on an assembly line as they happen – there’s no longer the need to wait for daily or weekly reports to see whether the line is running as it’s supposed to.

This also raises the standard for production efficiency. IoT systems are able to tell not just when mistakes are being made, but also when maximum efficiency is not being met. Therefore, manufacturers can make adjustments not only when there’s an actual problem, but when they can improve upon an already well-functioning process.

Intensive cybersecurity measures are necessities, not add-ons. 

Cybersecurity has been of major importance to manufacturers for years. Today, however, when machines and data systems and suppliers are all linked together and exchanging data almost continuously, it’s almost impossible to overstate just how vital cybersecurity is to organizations.

Just as a hacker could hypothetically take control of a self-driving car, hackers from competing companies could also break their way into a manufacturer’s machinery and take control. Stopping an assembly line, stealing product blueprints or confidential processes, changing measurements or setpoints – these measures could mean anything from a substantial loss of time and money, to massive recalls, to even sick or injured consumers.

Cybersecurity in the IoT is necessarily more complex because the IoT involves connecting separate networks to each other. As cybersecurity expert Andrew Ginter says in Manufacturing Business Technology, these networks don’t always operate at the same levels of security. In other words, if a hacker can break into a moderately secure network or device that’s connected to a highly secure one, it’s a lot easier for that hacker to get into the highly secure network. 

Manufacturing today looks vastly different than it did 20 years ago. At the rate things are changing today, in just 5 years it will be vastly different again. To read more about what’s on the horizon for manufacturing, read my post “20 Business and Manufacturing Trends to Watch for in 2017.”