What Does the IoT Mean to Modern Manufacturing?

Guest Commentary
by Scott Stone, Cisco-Eagle | @CiscoEagle

When the Terminator movies hit the big screen in the early 1990’s, it was man versus machine as the human resistance battled robots sent back in time to eradicate it from the world. Fortunately, today’s industrial robots resemble nothing of James Cameron’s infamous robot assassins.

In fact, innovations such as robotics and automation have paved the way for more efficient, productive, and intelligent industrial operations. And with these technological advancements comes the increasingly pervasive Internet of Things (IoT), which delivers increased data and sharing communication that Microsoft estimates could lead to $90 billion in added value for manufacturers annually.

According to Gartner, there will be nearly 26 billion IoT devices by 2020. Let’s take a look at how devices in the supply chain are starting to get connected and what your organization can to do take advantage of this connectivity:

Ready for some startling statistics? The American Society for Quality estimates that more than half of manufacturers are currently in the cloud and, of this percentage, 82% have increased warehouse efficiency, 49% have noted fewer product defects, and 45% have experienced higher customer satisfaction.

Hytrol, for example, syncs its conveyors with a Toolbox app that provides users with easy access to conveying information anytime and from anywhere. In other words, if a conveyor needs to be repaired on a Sunday evening, maintenance personnel can use the app to download installation and maintenance manuals, search for parts, and order supplies from the integration partner to reduce waiting time between order and arrival.

Takeaway: Organizations can use apps like Hytrol’s to empower maintenance teams to react intelligently to conveying problems in near real time, resulting in a more efficient supply chain.

Lift Trucks
As noted by Modern Materials Handling Editor Robert Michel, the “great promise of the IoT is that information technology (IT) systems will have a real-time understanding of conditions, events, and material movements in the physical world.”  Specifically, Michel says that manufacturers and dealers can adjust preventative maintenance schedules based on actual wear and better optimize uptime by connecting with the Internet.

For lift trucks in particular, users can leverage wireless networks, real-time locating, and cloud-based views into metrics and history to optimize equipment. Seegrid’s vision-guided automated guided vehicles (AGVs), for example, use navigation sensors to build a 3D map of the manufacturing facility, which allows the AGVs to follow a trained route without human assistance or the addition of special features, landmarks, or positioning systems.

Takeaway: Automating materials handling tasks, such as Seegrid has done with its patented vision-guided technology, allows for not only streamlined operations but also talent deployment to other areas of the warehouse where workers can be more productive.

There’s plenty of research to support the IoT’s influence on the manufacturing industry. What’s been interesting to see is that the trucking industry is also starting to get connected.

Third-party logistics company Cerasis provides customers with a robust transportation management system, Cerasis Rater. With the application, customers can manage all of their inbound and outbound freight shipping needs (i.e., shipper address book, freight accounting tools and freight payment options, tracking information, etc.) to maintain accuracy, save time, and eliminate uncertainty.

Takeaway: Web connectivity allows 3PL providers to help their customers lower costs and improve their efficiency when shipping freight.

Final Thoughts
While the IoT’s impact on manufacturing is being widely researched and discussed in industry-leading publications, Forbes notes that only 10% of industrial operations are currently using the connected enterprise. To stay competitive in a marketplace where companies increasingly need to do whatever they can to survive, it’s critical for manufacturers to harness the power of connectivity to streamline supply chain operations and provide an improved experience for customers.

How is your organization taking advantage of the connected enterprise?