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How the Internet of Things is Transforming Manufacturing Today

A new study finds the manufacturing industry is ready for the Internet of Things, with 83% of surveyed manufacturers either already using IoT technologies or planning to deploy within a year. By Josh Bond

Among 600 manufacturing companies surveyed, 97% of respondents believe the Internet of Things (IoT) is the most significant technology initiative of the decade.

This is according to research conducted for Zebra Technologies Corporation, a global leader in products and services that provide real-time visibility into organizations’ assets, people and transactions.

The survey reflects the views of information technology decision-makers in firms with more than 250 employees. Holding titles of manager and above, respondents are responsible for making or influencing decisions related to their firms’ IoT solutions.

Jim Hilton, senior director, global manufacturing principal, Zebra Technologies, said in a recent interview that although the consensus is that IoT is important, there’s less understanding of what it is.

“Everyone likes to walk around saying IoT these days, and the buzzword takes on the meaning of whoever just said it,” Hilton said. “IoT is about enterprise asset intelligence, and answers some important questions. What do you need to find out at a given point of activity – whether it happens on your property, at a vendor or elsewhere in the supply chain? From picking to trailer unloading to equipment service calls, you need that information in timely manner so you can still do something about it.”

Jim Hilton, senior director, global manufacturing principal, Zebra Technologies

“Manufacturing operations are running more efficiently than ever before due to the installation of smart machinery and sensors on connected factory floors”Jim Hilton, senior director, global manufacturing principal, Zebra Technologies

Instead of hoping materials will arrive in time for production, or waiting for a stockout to signal a replenishment, a manager with IoT visibility can prepare or adjust proactively before small problems become big ones. It’s a familiar concept, but Hilton suggested the tools for optimum coordination are rapidly coming together.

“The industry has been working on IoT-style technologies since I was first involved with automation in 1986,” he said. “The trouble then was that it took a modem 25 minutes to get the data up to where it could be seen.”

Connected devices, equipment and processes are now enabling companies to find efficiencies in their own operations, but the IoT extends further, granting visibility into supply chain partners. “If something goes wrong, like a vendor bringing your trailer of goods to the wrong place, you need that visibility even when you don’t own that function. Without the speed, affordability and security of IoT technologies, that sort of collaboration would be a giant obstacle like it always was.”

Hilton suggested the IoT involves the tracking of one or more of four main areas: goods, assets, people and processes. By collecting detailed information about even the smallest transactions, survey respondents expect their IoT initiatives will provide broader operational and actionable data that can be used to enhance supply chains, mitigate loss and risk and empower process and cost optimization. As with any data collection, the difficult part is analysis. That said, Hilton said there are examples of data doing much of the work by itself.

“In one large automotive parts manufacturing warehouse, the manager had traditionally had only general visibility into the 1st line, 2nd line and performance by worker,” Hilton explained. “They did nothing more than install a big screen TV on a wall with a dashboard that showed picks per hour, error rate, everything they would want to manage. They didn’t say a word about how associates should interpret the information, they just put it out there, and everyone’s productivity went up.”

Other Key Findings:

  • 83 percent of surveyed manufacturers either already have IoT implementations in place or plans to deploy within a year.
  • Wi-Fi, real-time locating systems (RTLS), security sensors, barcodes, GPS and mobile computers were cited as the most important technologies for enabling IoT solutions.
  • Less than five percent of respondents believe the manufacturing industry is not prepared to make the changes required to implement IoT solutions.
  • Half of the surveyed manufacturers cited cost concerns as the largest barrier to adopting IoT solutions while 46 percent indicated privacy and security concerns along with integration challenges.
  • In November 2014, Zebra released global findings from Forrester Consulting on the adoption of IoT across numerous industries, surveying IT and business decision makers from nearly 600 global firms.

“Manufacturing operations are running more efficiently than ever before due to the installation of smart machinery and sensors on connected factory floors,” Hilton said. “The results in less machine downtime, better asset utilization and faster time to market. Our survey affirms that Industry 4.0 is well underway, but more education can help increase IoT adoption in the manufacturing space.”

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About the author
Josh Bond, Senior Editor
Josh Bond is Senior Editor for Modern, and was formerly Modern’s lift truck columnist and associate editor. He has a degree in Journalism from Keene State College and has studied business management at Franklin Pierce University.

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