Written by: Chris O’Connor
The digital age has brought with it a new way of thinking about manufacturing and operations. Labor rate changes in emerging economies, coupled with challenges associated with logistics and energy costs, are influencing global production and associated distribution decisions. Significant advances in technology, including big data and analytics, the Internet of Things, robotics and additive manufacturing, are shifting the capabilities and value proposition of global manufacturing. In response, manufacturing and operations require a digital overhaul: The value chain must be redesigned and retooled and the workforce retrained – quickly.
In the age of digital operations, information previously created by people will increasingly be generated by machines and things – flowing out of sensors, RFID tags, meters, actuators, GPS and more. Inventory will count itself. Containers will detect their contents. Manufacturing assembly will be robotic and analytically automated. The entire value chain will be connected – not just customers, suppliers and information, but also parts, products and other smart objects used to monitor the value chain. Extensive connectivity will enable worldwide networks to plan and make decisions in real time.
The manufacturing industry is adopting IoT
Manufacturers are embracing the IoT for a number of reasons. In general, they seek to instrument their value chains – from the sourcing of raw materials to the customer delivery and, in some cases, the maintenance and service of already-delivered items.
Intelligent IoT systems enable rapid manufacturing of new products, dynamic response to product demands, and real-time optimization of manufacturing production and supply chain networks through interconnectivity of machinery, sensors and control systems. IoT systems also extend to asset management via predictive maintenance, statistical evaluation and measurements to help increase reliability. Smart industrial management systems can also be integrated with the smart grid, thereby enabling real-time energy optimization. In addition, IoT and cloud-based GPS solutions can help increase visibility of goods in transit. These solutions make it possible to track individual items via chips that talk to each other, transmitting data such as identification, location, temperature, pressure and humidity.
Robotics is creating new value for manufacturers
The use of robotics in manufacturing continues to increase as new applications are found across the value chain – from production to warehousing, distribution and the customer. Robotics can help companies reduce or eliminate defects, optimize productivity and localize supply chains in a cost-effective manner. As part of the IoT, these robots serve as devices that send and receive signals from applications, making the robots themselves adaptable to changing production and logistics environments. While some technologies, such as driverless trucks, ships and drones, are still in development, others are transforming value chains today.
How can you take advantage?
Increased visibility from highly instrumented and interconnected value chains will help companies identify and eradicate global manufacturing and delivery bottlenecks and quality problems. Here are focus points for manufacturers looking to transform their business with IoT:
- Take advantage of millions of IoT objects that can report on whereabouts, temperature fluctuations and even theft or tampering.
- Capitalize on real-time connectivity across the extended value chain to respond in a rapid, coordinated fashion by modeling and simulating operations across the entire network.
- Supplement business knowledge with analytics knowledge. To begin, pilot new technologies that enable digital operations.
- Implement technologies like robotics and IoT into your manufacturing and assembly processes to automate, create efficiencies and lower operational costs.
IoT solutions for manufacturing can transform your business by using industry-leading technologies to drive intelligent assets, cognitive processes and smarter resources. Take a look at solutions and leading IBM customers that are driving this transformation with Watson IoT.