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The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), a subset of the Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to transform a variety of industries. Digital transformation has reverberated across several, if not all, industries and it will definitely continue to do so over the next few years, especially with the rise of 5G network adoption across the globe, it will give IoT the power to function in the best way imaginable.

IoT refers to giving physical objects - whether factory machinery or electronic appliances - the ability to be physically connected to the internet. For some time now, IoT devices have been primarily consumer-focused however, they seem to be seeping their way into the manufacturing industry rapidly and will, without a doubt, change the entire landscape of that industry in every sense of the word.

In fact, over 40% of IoT devices available today are being used in business and manufacturing and by 2025, the number of these devices is expected to exceed 75 billion.

Interconnected manufacturing systems would mean that they would possess the ability to communicate on intelligent platforms where data is shared, fed and analyzed for a variety of reasons.

IIoT could be implemented on industrial equipment, personnel, processes and facilities, all of which will be interconnected. In smart factories for instance, sensors could be placed on equipment, ensuring that everything that takes place on the factory floor would be collected in the form of sensor-based data and in turn, allows businesses to make better informed decisions. This will enable operation managers or factory managers to manage any given factory or plant (in the case of the oil and gas sector) remotely.

Each of these machines or devices would be connected to a common, shared and secure network which would grant them the ability to monitor a variety of functions such as temperature, humidity levels, lighting usage and activity levels. This provides businesses with the capability to monitor and better manage their operations in an effort to increase productivity and efficiency levels.

Another advantage of IIoT is its ability to increase safety within the field of manufacturing. The sheer volume of data that can be collected and used in this case would enable businesses to gain an enhanced overview into how its systems and operations are working and if there are any potential or impending dangers that could occur during the manufacturing process through a predictive maintenance model which could prevent dangerous situations from taking place such as the overheating of equipment.

With 5G on the rise, IoT is expected to become more efficient due to one of the key features offered by this next-generation technology which is ultra-low latency. Low latency would mean that sensors on factory floors could collect data in real-time, allowing staff to be alerted in the event of a safety issue. This not only reduces the risk of injuries amongst employees, but also prevents the damaging of equipment which would in turn also reduce the cost of maintenance or buying new equipment. Being able to rectify a problem before absolute failure occurs will be a huge advantage. In fact, the main motivation for 54% of enterprises to adopt IoT is to reduce costs and only around 35% of IoT projects are really used to increase revenues.

To enhance the safety of its workers, businesses could also deploy IoT-powered robots to deal with tasks that are too risky for human workers to do.

Wearable connected devices could also be used on employees. This would prevent injuries, monitor the worker’s health and risk depending on the function they are carrying out at any given moment. This could be particularly useful if industry-specific elements are added to it such as location trackers in the mining sector.

Sustainability

Apart from its ability to increase safety levels on the factory floor, IIoT could also improve energy efficiency especially since the industrial sector is renowned for being one of the biggest consumers of energy. HVAC systems use a considerable amount of energy. IoT-powered sensors could be utilized in order to identify the areas in which energy is being over-used or under-used. Monitoring energy output is important because, for instance, if a machine operates at a temperature that is significantly above the optimum level, a remedy could be found instantly, ensuring that energy does not get wasted. What is more, is that excess heat could illustrate that the machine itself is actually faulty and as a result, maintenance could be conducted on it, thus preventing it from failing or breaking down.

Supply chain management

Another aspect to consider here would be the benefits it could pose for supply chain management. IoT could make supply chain management more data-driven through things like asset tracking through the utilization of sensors that have the ability to track a product from the moment it leaves the factory floor, all the way up to the moment it reaches the store and the hands of the end-user.

Data and its specificity pose unprecedented possibilities in this sector. With new RFID and GPS sensors, asset tracking is made easy and more specific than ever before. It has been speculated that this could potentially improve vendor relations dramatically since all parties involved in the supply chain process would be able to access that granular data which essentially creates greater transparency which would help manufacturers also improve the way in which they communicate with both vendors and suppliers.

Having a better managed and more efficient supply chain would also mean that forecasting inventory would be more accurate hence the future of the supplies would be built on the data that has been collected over a set amount of time to reduce over-production, as well as wasted energy and raw materials. Manufacturing schedules would be more stable and the right amount of energy, technology and materials would be allocated to each process.

Logistics

There is no doubt that adding IoT to a company’s supply chain strategy would make logistics more efficient. Having a fully interconnected transportation process whether it be in the form of trucks, vans or even ships, would mean that operators could safeguard the process of transporting the products and be able to detect issues throughout the process by receiving information in almost real-time, which will be even faster once 5G begins to become deployed properly.

Challenges

While Industrial IoT brings with it great benefits, it is also important to consider the main issue with IoT-powered devices: the security dimension. The security of the network is crucial for Industrial IoT because as soon as each device joins the network, it could essentially become a point of entry for attackers and this is particularly important because the number of IoT devices being used is only increasing and attackers in the cyberspace are only becoming more creative with their attacks. Anything with an IP connection could be a threat and must therefore be cleared of all vulnerabilities.

Just like most emerging technologies, IoT simplifies processes through doing more with so much less. IIoT’s flexibility and agility is and will continue to be a tremendous asset to the manufacturing sector.

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