The benefits of IoT in manufacturing

Making the digital factory more resilient spanning from the factory floor to the fleet

by Tiff Cochran, Marketing Communications Manager

The Internet of Things (IoT) has long been a part of the manufacturing process.

The number of connected devices continues to grow through digital transformation of today’s factory. This includes internet-connected smart manufacturing, more cloud connectivity, enhanced network visibility, predictive maintenance, and improved inventory management. However, industry leaders are faced with several challenges. These include how to easily store, manage, access, and analyze the data they collect in a manner that optimizes the flow of operations.

As a result, there's an increase in investment into technologies that have emerged with IoT and Industry 4.0 . IoT sensors, machine learning, artificial intelligence (AI), and a host of other inputs are creating an expanded tech ecosystem, which requires a network that can support its demands. IoT solutions are also playing an ever-increasing role in operations models, such as lean manufacturing.

IoT solutions and lean manufacturing

What is lean manufacturing and how does IoT play a role in it? The goal of lean manufacturing is to maintain an efficient operation, reduce waste, and reduce costs while also improving the quality of products produced. However, its dependency on consistency in the supply chain can pose a number of issues. For example, if raw materials are not received as expected, the flow of process can be interrupted causing costs to rise.

Manufacturers of all operations models have been impacted by supply chain interruptions in recent years. Globally, many companies have felt the deep impact of the accessibility to raw goods, reduced production, and forced shutdowns. Further, challenges in the transportation industry have further complicated operations. While many manufacturing economies have recovered, others are still struggling.

IoT is making it easier for manufacturers to identify opportunities to improve production, potentially making up for some loss from the supply chain. By moving from manual processes and calculations to machine learning, AI-based analysis, and video intelligence, IoT enables more data to be collected to optimize manufacturing production, identify areas of improvement, and possibly offset such supply chain challenges. And it’s playing a key role in resolving transportation issues both for companies with their own fleet and through transport companies. They can better track vehicle GPS to know where their shipments are for better planning and accountability, helping to close gaps that may otherwise be out of their control.

Robotic arms and other tech

Through the expansion of endpoints in the digital factory, today’s manufacturers are producing and collecting more data than ever before. While this is essential to creating more efficiency, with such a massive volume of information, critical alerts may be missed.

For example, let’s say that a robotic arm is sending out signals that it’s in need of service. If these alerts are missed and maintenance isn’t predicted or addressed, what could be a long, profitable life may be shortened because the distress calls were lost in waves of data.

Robotic arms aren’t the only thing that you need to keep tabs on. Additionally, there are:   

  • supervisory control and data acquisition (SCADA) inputs   
  • precision machining monitors   
  • temperature controls for chemicals   
  • mobile and remote devices 

Without monitoring, these areas of the factory can cause a loss in efficiency. This can compound challenges that are happening outside of the factory walls that affect production and delivery of goods to customers. However, IoT provides statuses and alerts for the best actions, some automated, to take place.  So how else can a manufacturer keep pace with this heavy flow of production data and address potential maintenance issues before they jeopardize the flow of operations?

The perfect blend of IT and OT

While many manufacturers are prioritizing the challenging collection of all of their endpoint and production data, more are uniting information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) to upgrade their infrastructure, creating an enhanced digital thread.

Manufacturers are seeking solutions that stretch from one edge of their network to the other. And where the cloud meets the digital factory, data generated from IoT-connected equipment and other endpoints is stored at the network edge where it can be accessed in real time. During peak production periods, data is onsite. When production slows down, it’s uploaded to the cloud. This solution resolves the need for costly data centers while also enabling manufacturers to access and analyze aggregated mission-critical information as it’s needed.

The essential aspect of security

But what happens if that mission-critical information is hijacked? The benefits of IoT in manufacturing are many, however, an increase in vulnerability to cyberattack comes along with the increase in endpoints that are emerging through digital transformation. Because of the amount of valuable data that’s generated in manufacturing, it’s one of the most targeted industries by cybercriminals. This is especially so for small and medium-sized manufacturers that make up the majority of the industry[1]. These companies often have less flexibility in their resources and struggle to find the delicate balance of what to allocate budget to. It can be easy to choose frontline priorities such as personnel and equipment, but as the number of attacks increases, it becomes easier to justify cybersecurity as a top priority for investment.

Cybersecurity options for manufacturers

There are many paths manufacturing leaders can take to provide better network security. For example, tactics such as behavioral anomaly detection (BAD), which monitors systems to search for unusual activity, are being employed to identify potential security threats. But this is a passive option because it only notes where there may be an issue without taking any automated action.

While BAD may be a good start for some companies, most need a more comprehensive, automated approach to cybersecurity in manufacturing. First and foremost, because of the number of new endpoints that are created and their connection to the cloud, a cybersecurity plan should be in place before implementing digital transformation and/or IoT solutions.

A more active strategy for protecting the digital factory is with threat detection and response for public cloud and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) environments. This can cover everything from small independent operations to large, multi-location global businesses. A well-designed, comprehensive solution delivers continuous monitoring, analytics, and built-in threat intelligence and response guidance. In addition, the need for additional staff to deploy, configure, and maintain separate security controls is eliminated, helping to reduce costs related to protecting the network in manufacturing.

Faster access to data

Imagine – the infrastructure is in place and the network is cybersecure. What does this mean for the digital factory? Industry 4.0 manufacturing means that with machine-to-machine communication and more visibility into production, manufacturers can utilize real-time data access to keep the factory moving. For example, sensor-based alerts help reduce downtime. This enables manufacturers to shift from preventative to predictive maintenance by managing this data better between the network edge and the cloud.

Josh Danielson, the AVP of channel marketing for manufacturing, transportation, and consumer packaged goods at AT&T Business says, “Wasted time in a factory can translate to not only a loss in revenue, it may also cause missed opportunities for new revenue. The more efficiently data is collected, aggregated, and accessed, the more efficiently production can operate.” Additionally, leaders can respond to changes in the production lifecycle and the supply chain for smarter, leaner operations.

Want to see how it all works? AT&T Business is collaborating with MxD (Manufacturing x Digital), a research factory in Chicago used to test and demonstrate new and emerging technologies. At this facility, we highlight some of the benefits for IoT in manufacturing. This experience shows how AT&T IoT Video Intelligence can used to monitor several elements of production – conveyor belt speed and production accuracy, older equipment temperatures and maintenance, and inventory levels and location, all designed to optimized production, enhance safety, and keep production moving forward.

To learn more about AT&T Business solutions for manufacturing, visit our manufacturing page or reach out to your representative.