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How Industrial IoT Sensors Are Improving Manufacturing

By: Tom Banta on June 18, 2019

Manufacturing contributed $2.38 trillion to the US economy in the fourth quarter of 2018, employing over twelve million workers and accounting for 11.4 percent of national GDP that year. For all the media concerns over the decline of manufacturing’s prominence, the sector has thrived in recent years due to key technological developments. One of the most promising technologies being incorporated into manufacturing is the industrial Internet of Things (IoT) sensor.

Sometimes abbreviated IIoT, these devices are revolutionizing the way industrial manufacturing companies produce and transport their products. As IoT technology continues to develop and edge computing architecture becomes more commonplace, they will help industrial manufacturers become even more competitive on the global stage.

Improved Operational Visibility

One of the biggest advantages of IoT sensors is their connectivity and ability to collect data. The modern manufacturing factory floor is filled with an array of sophisticated machinery. Far from the dirty, dangerous factories of the early 20th century, today’s manufacturing facilities have made heavy investments in operational technology to create workplaces that are clean, safe, and even comfortable while still driving better efficiency and productivity.

Industrial IoT sensors help to make those environments possible by providing unprecedented visibility into every aspect of manufacturing operations. They can monitor environmental conditions, evaluate the status of production lines, identify problems and potential safety threats, and even allow technicians to control critical operations remotely. All of this data can then be transferred to local micro data centers or nearby edge data centers to be processed by powerful analytics programs that allow manufacturing facilities to identify trends and optimize operations for better performance.

Predictive Maintenance

One of the major benefits of using predictive analytics has to do with maintenance. As industrial machinery has become more complex, the need to monitor their status has become more important as well. A malfunctioning or worn-out component can bring a production line screeching to a halt. If replacement parts aren’t readily available or if no one is prepared to perform the necessary repairs, the failure could cause severe disruption to a supply chain.

With industrial IoT sensors continuously gathering data on equipment to monitor its performance, predictive analytics can identify where failures are likely to occur and estimate how long specific components will operate at peak efficiency. Armed with this data, factory managers can make sure they have replacement parts on-site as well as schedule dedicated repairs to minimize disruptions.

Autonomous Equipment

Human error remains one of the leading causes of system downtime. In today’s complex industrial environments, there are often too many variables for even skilled workers to take into account without compromising performance or safety. Automation is certainly not new to manufacturing, but specially designed industrial IoT sensors make it possible for equipment to be largely autonomous rather than blindly carrying out repetitive tasks.

An autonomous system is distinguished by its ability to make decisions based on a variety of changing factors. Since industrial IoT sensors often possess significant on-board processing capacity, they are able to evaluate environmental conditions and adjust operations accordingly. These decisions are informed by huge amounts of data, far greater than any person could hope to analyze quickly and accurately. Not only does this eliminate many of the risks associated with human error, but it also promises to improve efficiency and productivity with minimal oversight.

Logistics Transparency

Knowing where critical assets are located in the supply chain is a crucial aspect of manufacturing. The most carefully optimized industrial machinery won’t amount to much if the products they manufacture get lost somewhere between the factory floor and intended customers. With IoT sensors connectivity features like smart RFID tags, industrial manufacturing companies can gain unprecedented visibility into their supply chains and logistics operations. Suddenly, identifying the precise location of a single manufactured item is as simple as calling up the IoT sensor associated with it. This data can not only help to ensure that everything gets where it needs to go, but also helps industrial manufacturing companies to streamline their supply chains to deliver products to market more effectively.

Edge Functionality

Today’s industrial machinery is much more versatile than equipment of the past. In many cases, manufacturing equipment is small and portable enough for it to be transported as needed. Manufacturing materials on-site can greatly reduce the cost of a construction project, for instance, while placing industrial equipment closer to end users can eliminate substantial shipping and logistics costs. Smart IoT sensors can provide the processing power this equipment needs to function on the edge of traditional cloud computing networks. They can also allow machinery to function completely independently, gathering data and carrying out key processing tasks until the machinery can reconnect back to a centralized network. With IoT sensors, industrial equipment is never far removed from a company’s primary servers.

Industrial IoT sensors are improving manufacturing by providing greater visibility into factory operations and empowering both data collection and analysis to deliver better efficiency with minimal disruption. In the coming years, these smart IoT devices will become even more versatile, allowing them to operate almost anywhere with a minimal infrastructure footprint. Coupled with improved supply chain transparency, these innovations will help industrial manufacturing companies to boost productivity and better serve their customers while growing their business.

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