Nearly everything in the manufacturing sector can be connected online these days, from sensors and software to robots and routing slips. This network of connected devices is what makes up the Internet of Things (IoT). Some manufacturers have fully embraced the IoT and its capabilities, while others lag behind. Until they catch up, they can expect to remain at a major disadvantage.
The IoT has the capability of giving manufacturers major competitive advantages in many areas, but nowhere is it more evident than in its ability to improve capacity planning and uptime, leading to faster production, higher quality, and more profitability. Let’s take a look at the five main ways it helps organizations achieve these results.
1. Leverage the Power of Data
Pinpointing issues affecting employee productivity used to be a guessing game before analytics came along. Today, machine data can be extracted into insightful reports that measure output per shift or per employee. A dashboard view of productivity in real time can help determine which shifts may need additional labor or if capacity can be transitioned elsewhere. Transparency into all areas of an operation helps streamline workflows between departments. Data gathered from the manufacturing floor, shipping, inventory, billing, sales, and more is all connected to keep everyone “in the know” about projects and processes. This leads to fewer silos and more collaboration among departments, improving outcomes and streamlining every touchpoint of a customer’s order, not just on the manufacturing floor.
Manufacturers know that output isn’t all that matters. The quality of parts coming off the line is of utmost importance, and machine data can show which machines produce a higher number of faulty parts that end up robbing profits. Once those insights are gained, the root causes can be identified. Was it because of an equipment malfunction or human error? The data can help you determine next steps, whether it be needed maintenance or additional worker training.
2. Perform Predictive Maintenance
Nothing can halt production faster than equipment failure. The latest innovations in IoT technology revolve around predicting (and preventing) breakdowns before they occur. Sensors are applied to machines to monitor vibration levels, thermal readings, energy use and other factors associated with potential disruptions. If a machine, for example, reaches a specified temperature threshold too quickly, a sensor will send an alert to specified managers and maintenance crews to dispatch repairs and address the issue before it escalates into a full-blown breakdown and considerable downtime. Sensors can run 24/7 and be monitored remotely from across the plant or across the country.
3. Improve Worker Safety
Workplace safety has come a long way since the early days of manufacturing. Still, each year there are countless injuries and fatalities associated with equipment failures. OSHA’s top ten most frequent violations include machinery, machine guarding, lockout/tagout practices, components, equipment, and other manufacturing-related incidents. The aforementioned predictive maintenance not only protects equipment; it protects workers who may be injured by faulty machines.
The IoT allows more automation, allowing the most dangerous functions to be handled by machines instead of people. And improved communication between lines and departments helps workers remain vigilant and help each other identify potential risks.
Improved safety inevitably helps an organization’s bottom line in the form of lower turnover, less time off work, and fewer workers’ compensation claims.
4. Enhance Cybersecurity
The manufacturing sector is one of the most frequently hacked industries, trailing only behind healthcare. Cybercriminals are no longer just trying to steal data; they’re increasingly seeking to disrupt operations and hold companies hostage in exchange for ransom. These attacks can halt operations for hours or days depending on a company’s backup practices or its willingness to give into a hacker’s demands.
One would think that when an entire operation is connected via the cloud and IoT devices that there’s a greater threat of a breach. However, the security measures available with modern systems often improves data and device protection. This emphasizes how critical it is to align your operations with qualified IT professionals, technology providers, and robust systems to ensure protection against cyberattacks.
The 24/7 monitoring capabilities and firewall protections provided by many technology providers can help mitigate the risks. Make sure you’ve implemented fully functioning backup systems and have business continuity plans in place in the event a cyberattack does occur.
5. Create Mobile Accessibility
The accessibility of data from IoT devices allows processes to be managed from anywhere. This is especially important to manufacturers with multiple plants or partners in other locations. Managers can view output, parts supplies, conduct inspections, increase quantities, and make adjustments remotely when necessary to minimize delays and capitalize on production opportunities in real time without having to step foot on the production floor.
Sales and field service representatives can access information on demand through their mobile devices, including inventory, supply chain data, billing, order status, service history, and more. This kind of visibility improves quote accuracy and customer service, and equips workers with the information they need to work more efficiently.
The IoT is transforming manufacturing and will continue to evolve in coming years. Organizations must keep up in order to remain competitive in rapidly changing markets. The technology experts at Wipfli are experienced at connecting manufacturers to the latest IoT innovations and keeping systems secure. Reach out today to see how your organization can leverage the IoT to improve operations.