IoT in ManufacturingBy Mike Schmidt, AEM Industry Advisor Editor

Perhaps the best way to sum up the long-anticipated and widely discussed emergence of the Internet of Things over the course of the past decade is to say: IoT is here, but it hasn’t really arrived just yet.

The Internet makes it possible to connect billions of devices, thereby giving people, places and things ready access to other entities, information and online processes. As these devices generate untold sums of data, the ever-advancing Internet of Things allows for what’s relevant to be collected, analyzed and – most importantly – leveraged in solutions capable of driving business outcomes.

“It’s fair to say that over the last 10 years or so, we’ve been surrounded by IoT hype,” said Maciej Kranz, vice president and general manager, corporate strategic innovation group fior Cisco, speaking to those in attendance at last year’s AEM Annual Conference. “Whatever your question was, IoT was the answer. We saw huge projections of billions of devices getting connected, and the trillions of dollars everyone would make as a result of IoT.”

For years, the Internet of Things has promised manufacturers a vast array of benefits, including, but not limited to:

  • Improved operational efficiency
  • Increased workplace safety
  • Tools to develop smarter and more innovative products
  • The means to support compliance

IoT has long been positioned as a preeminent tool in sparking transformative organizational change. And so far, it has been useful in aiding manufacturers’ efforts to improve existing business processes. The next step in its evolution, however, calls for IoT to be combined with other cutting-edge technologies to drive new value for customers through the creation new value propositions, new markets and new business models.

“IoT is a tool, but it’s just one of the tools,” explained Kranz.

With that fact in mind, Kranz outlined four other technologies that – when coupled with IoT – are poised to shape the future of manufacturing:

Distributed Cloud (Cloud 2.0)

The rise of the Internet of Things has sparked the emergence of the distributed cloud, otherwise referred to as Cloud 2.0 or "fog computing." Defined by Cisco as a "highly virtualized platform that provides compute, storage and networking services between end devices and traditional cloud computing data centers," its name serves to explain how the technology works by alluding to the idea that fog is a cloud that is close to the ground. The benefits of fog computing, according to Cisco, are improved latencies, a higher quality user experience, less traffic at the hearts of networks, as well as  higher security.

Centralized cloud computing, on one hand, is useful for a wide range of applications – especially those where data the data in need of processing is neither bandwith-intensive or time-sensitive. However, in order to illustrate the value of the distributed cloud, Kranz said it’s helpful to consider an oil rig sitting out in the middle of an ocean.

“It’s not feasible, economical or practical to take this data from out in the ocean and send it to the cloud,” he continued. “Some larger oil rigs have about 100,000 sensors on them – generating a couple of terrabytes of data per day. So what if, instead, you take cloud services and extend them to an oil rig?”

Artificial Intelligence

A simple, straightforward metaphor for describing how the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence are capable of working together is by considering the relationship between a person’s body and his or her brain.

“IoT is the body providing the data, the brain – or AI – is analyzing the data and, in many cases, IoT actually executes the data,” explained Kranz.

A byproduct of the recent rise of Internet of Things has been the nearly unfathomable amount of data being produced in our world. Companies of all types and sizes are being inundated by this data deluge, causing more and more organizations to invest in AI to help manage – and, perhaps more importantly – gain relevant, actionable insights from their data.

Doing so is no small task. But it can be done. And as IoT and AI evolve, manufacturers will begin to see greater visibility from – and control over – the vast array of devices and sensors connected to the Internet.

Blockchain

Blockchain is best defined as a “secure, shared distributed ledger.” More specifically, blockchain can be described as secure because it uses cryptography to sign transactions, which creates a positive identity for parties transacting in a process. It’s shared because any number different parties transacted together all have access to data sets. And it’s distributed because no one single source or database can be lost or compromised.

“We deploy blockchain across our supply chain, and we’ve been recording hundreds of millions of records for our products,” said Kranz. “And as a result, before we ship let’s say, for example, a module to our customers, we can identify if the module is real or not based on geneology of the product across our ecosystem.”

Blockchain, when working in concert with IoT, can improve supply chain network traceability. For example, IoT sensors such as temperature sensors, motion sensors or GPS provide valuable data about a specific shipment’s status. In addition, information gathered from the sensors ultimately gets stored in the blockchain, bringing traceability, auditability and transparency into the system.

Drone Technology

DronesUnmanned air systems (UAS) – otherwise known as drones – are everywhere these days, and for good reason.

Less expensive, more flexible and more easily scalable than employing aircrafts or operating cranes, drones have seen a meteoric rise in popularity in recent years and are now being used in a variety of recreational and commercial applications.

Whether they are being utilized for photography and videography, facility inspection and maintenance, security or marketing purposes, drones offer incredible functionality and are quite effective as a means for carrying sensor technology.

The marriage of IoT and drones eliminates the dependency on specific locations or specific devices for placing IoT sensors, as well as monitoring, managing, and collecting data from those sensors. This combination will deliver unprecedented levels of flexibility to capture and analyze data that otherwise would have been too expensive, too dangerous, or just too impractical to otherwise collect.

“What are some of the consequences of all this technology? Our customers are telling us that now they are getting all of the data from across the operations, it allows them to make more intelligent decisions,” said Kranz.

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Lessons Learned

Technology continues to grow and evolve with time, forcing manufacturers to continually re-evaluate whether or not to invest in and adopt the latest and greatest trends and offerings. And when it comes to the Internet of Things, the best course of action manufacturers can take is to think big and start small. After all, IoT is a journey, not a destination.

Mistakes will be made along the way, so it’s critical for organizations to think beyond technology. And for those manufacturers that are just getting under way with their individual IoT journey, it would be wise – in Kranz’s opinion – to follow this blueprint:

  • Consider all of the use cases out there and learn from what peers are doing.
  • Learn from any and all mistakes that are made.
  • Build a partner ecosystem and learn to co-develop with those partners.
  • Attract and train new and existing talent.
  • Focus on solving real problems.
  • Prepare for a journey, not a one-time event.
  • Integrate technology solutions with business processes.
  • Start with low-hanging fruit.
  • Make security everyone’s top priority.
  • Transform culture along with technology.

“And if you do all that, hopefully you will get started on your IoT journey,” added Kranz.

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