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Industrial Automation and IoT: What Are the Benefits?

Nov 24, 2020

Industrial Automation IoT

IoT is shorthand for Internet of Things, which is the latest generation of business and consumer equipment connected to the internet. These devices can communicate with each other, central computer systems, and people in your workplace. 

Sounds like IoT devices would be a perfect way to improve industrial automation. But is that always the case?

IoT and smart management systems can be cost-effective solutions for managing how your industrial equipment, your staff, and their IoT mobile devices work together. There are many advantages to this digital way of running industry. But there are some traps you can fall into during your transition if you’re not planning carefully.

How IoT Will Be Used in Industry—2020 and Beyond

Berg Insight, a global IoT market research firm, calculated that there were more than 4.8 million wireless IoT devices shipped for industrial automation applications in 2015. That figure is expected to rise to 18.3 million by 2021.

Why the sudden, massive uptick in interest? The main reason is that networked IoT devices establish feedback loops. They can monitor industrial performance and send data to central computer systems for analysis. Then they can carry out instructions that are returned. Industrial IoT solutions are self-monitoring, self-adjusting types of smart technology.

The most common activities we can expect to see smart IoT systems perform in industry include:

  • Data collection
  • Performance monitoring
  • Actionable analytics
  • Remote management

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While industry will become increasingly automated going forward, people won’t disappear from industrial worksites. Their roles will change though, and business leaders will need to make sure their labor forces can still effectively work in these new, automated environments.

To that end, three particular trends are on the horizon for industrial automation and IoT that you should be aware of:

Industry 4.0

This is the nickname for the new wave of smart factories expected to become the fourth major industrial revolution. Industry 4.0 companies integrate IoT technology, cloud computing services, and big data initiatives together into their manufacturing processes.

IoT technology will connect skilled personnel with production and management equipment more tightly in these companies. That connectedness will allow companies to optimize how they manufacture goods and manage operations.

AI & Machine Learning

Data collected from IoT smart systems can be run through advanced AI and machine learning software, which can identify trends and opportunities that might not be obvious to human operators. Machine learning software is capable of adjusting how it performs based on human and IoT feedback. This will be important for improving:

  • Warehousing operations
  • Asset tracking
  • Inventory management
  • Supply chain monitoring
  • Supply/demand forecasting

Proactive Maintenance

IoT and AI systems together will allow companies to perform more proactive maintenance on their production equipment, mobile devices, and IoT systems themselves. This capability allows companies to reduce downtime by identifying and resolving technical issues before they can impact production. IoT and AI tools will also help identify performance trends among mobile devices and other equipment, which will help you optimize future maintenance schedules or purchasing schedules.

Expected Outcomes When Industrial Automation and IoT Work Together

Industrial businesses that add smart technology to their operations can expect to see improvement in a range of areas. You don’t need to go completely all in, either. You can expect to see these four specific benefits even in smaller-scale IoT investments:

Better Efficiency

Smart systems operate at a much higher speed than human workers. They can complete a greater amount of work in a much shorter time.

They also don’t get tired, so there will be much less downtime when a process is carried out by a smart IoT system. Smart systems also don’t take holidays or need sick days. So work can continue even when you’re at reduced capacity.

Since they’re always active, those systems can also facilitate smoother transitions of work shift to shift—for example, by ensuring that mobile devices used by staff are quickly and easily handed off.

Fewer Errors

Automated systems are much more accurate than human workers. People get tired, have lapses in judgment, and misenter information. Electronic systems can’t make those kinds of human errors.

Compared to human workers, IoT systems can also record a much higher volume of data and in much finer detail. You can use this increased amount of data to conduct better and more granular analyses of your operations.

Cost Reduction

The up-front costs of deploying an IoT smart management system are quickly recouped by the labor and associated staffing costs you can reduce. These savings grow year over year as you optimize your new processes.

Smart management systems also help you drastically reduce losses and inventory shrinkage. For example, smart asset management systems can almost completely eliminate industrial handheld equipment loss. 

The asset management system is able to notify supervisors the second a device is overdue for return. Initiating a search as soon as possible greatly increases the chance of recovering missing equipment before shift changes occur. Supervisors can also analyze transaction reports over time to help identify concerning trends before they become full-blown problems.

Better Working Conditions

Industrial automation and IoT systems can take over your most hazardous and cumbersome tasks from human workers. This will reduce workplace accidents, which means fewer workers’ compensation claims, fewer production delays, and overall less stress for both shift workers and management.

Wireless IoT solutions are also effective in locations that are hard or cost-prohibitive to reach for human workers. For example, in industry, this could mean deploying cranes or automated guided vehicles (AGVs) that can be controlled over a wireless connection. They can be used for material handling and process automation in environments where it would be unsafe to send workers.

IoT smart management systems also excel at handling work that is simply tedious for humans. For example, in asset management that could include transaction logging and tracking.

Automating basic work functions allows your staff to focus on the skilled labor where human expertise is most important—and the most rewarding.

What to Watch out for When Implementing IoT Solutions

Some businesses try to jump headlong into IoT system deployments without properly considering all of the challenges they might face. That can delay, or even stop, their industrial automation and IoT rollouts.

Here are the three most common challenges that you need to consider in your own deployment plan:

Unexpected Up-front Costs

While they save costs in the mid and long terms, IoT solutions can be costly and complex to deploy. You need to plan carefully to avoid unnecessary delays and expenses in your business’s IoT rollout. Make sure you’re working with an experienced solutions provider that knows all of the ins and outs of the technology platform you’re deploying.

Physical & IT Security

IoT devices are often types of industrial equipment that have never been connected to the internet before. This means you may need to deploy new and unexpected types of security to your business network to protect them. This makes it vital to get your IT department in the loop about new IoT automation efforts from the very beginning.

IoT devices themselves are also usually valuable, making them targets for internal and external theft. Consider which devices you will use are most at risk. Mobile electronics used as part of an Industry 4.0 transition are often in need of elevated security and management.

Integration & Management

While automated systems can perform many of the tasks previously performed by human workers, they still require management and maintenance. In particular, businesses looking to deploy mobile electronics to their staff as part of new IoT automation efforts often don’t consider how they’re going to manage these new devices. You can inadvertently create new, manual work for your staff if you don’t have a plan for device management.

Staff will need training when you add automated management processes. Their old routines won’t be as effective when IoT technology drives so many processes in new ways. If you deploy technology without bringing your personnel along in your Industry 4.0 transformation, your business’s performance will suffer.

A Clear Vision Forward, but Still Many Decisions to Be Made

The future of industry lies in IoT and other smart technology. It is not a question of whether expanding your industrial automation and IoT systems is a good idea, it is only a question of how you get results most effectively. Smart storage systems can be the solution to the challenge of managing how your staff and mobile IoT electronics will need to work together.

Mobile Device Management

Shannon Arnold

Written by Shannon Arnold

Shannon Arnold is the VP of Marketing and Strategic Partnerships at Real Time Networks.