For a while there, things were old news. The internet was the new guy in town, getting all the hype. But with the emergence of the Internet of Things (IoT) and abounding interconnectedness between products, people and the digital world, manufacturers are now in the game just as much as web and app developers. Manufacturers make the things, and without the things, you're left with digital connectivity alone, losing the potential for physical interaction of product and consumer that is shaping our future right before our eyes. Below is a list of how the Internet of Things is transforming manufacturing as we know it. Welcome to Industry 4.0!
Prepare to see integration on multiple levels: between manufacturing and technology, between humans and devices. Information and physical objects will no longer operate on parallel, isolated planes as they do now; instead, they will operate on the same plane, as products and their details are digitally and inseparably linked. With the help of sensors, machine-to-machine (M2M) technology and mobile device management (MDM),smart machines will communicate their statuses with each other as well as with human workers. This technology detects production issues and bottlenecks early on and allows workers time to fix them immediately, saving both money and time.
To be clear, the IoT will not magically improve your product quality overnight, but it will provide tools to better monitor machine and worker performance and anticipate quality issues before they occur. Smart machines will alert you if there is an issue and will stop running to reduce loss, rather than depending on humans to find the issue (often after it’s too late). Once a product is in the field, servicing broken products will also be more intuitive with the help of smart sensors that allow the product to communicate with the manufacturer or distributor directly. According to a 2015 survey by Tata Consultancy Services, "33.8 percent of companies have implemented digital sensors that send back data on product performance and service after they are sold and being used by customers.” This is a substantial number that we should expect to increase over the next few years.
Setting up a line, training workers and getting production started is a grueling process in itself. For more complex items, switching gears mid-production can be a major hurdle. The product itself is not all that matters – the process must be sophisticated and efficient as well. The IoT will allow factories to react more quickly to volatile demand because smart machines will communicate to gauge each other's capacity and appropriately distribute workloads and execute real-time changes on the line.
While there are some excellent inventory management programs on the market today, achieving full integration between physical stock and technology will considerably improve accuracy. You'll find more reliable and better managed vendor-managed inventory (VMI) programs, optimized inventory levels (no more attempting to find that lean sweet spot), and a better prepared supply chain overall. Goods communicating directly with the warehouse staff will allow employees to control stock levels precisely and manage long lead time (LLT) components more efficiently than before.
If devices are sending data directly to a manufacturer or distributor as mentioned above, customer service teams are able to drastically reduce response times and be proactive in dispatching field workers to service a part. This will make customers happy! It also allows for extending the life of products through maintenance (which also makes customers happy). Predictive maintenance is the future of field service (see video from SAP below). This is enabled primarily by sophisticated product monitoring and wearable devices. Another development that is improving customer service is mobile apps for customers to provide feedback about products, submit service requests and reference product information and manuals.
While the internet was once to be the land of opportunity for website and app developers, it is quickly evolving into a useful way to connect devices, acquire data and use those analytics for a wide variety of end goals. Those end goals can be anything from more efficient management of lighting and environmental conditions in buildings, to preventing the spread of secondary infection in hospitals, to fleet improved management. The T in IoT stands for things, and those connected devices need to be invented, developed and manufactured by somebody (cough, product developers and manufacturers, cough). We truly have the ability to build our future!