Industry 4.0: IoT Is Key to the Smart Factory

Here’s some of the ways IoT can help benefit manufacturing companies.

Mnet 193386 Io T
David Van DorselaerDavid Van Dorselaer

Industry 4.0. technologies are helping manufacturers to digitize their factories. One of the most important of these technologies is Internet of Things (IoT). Powered by connectivity and sensors, it generates actionable, near real-time data insights about the condition of physical things in the factory and throughout the supply chain. This combined with data analytics, new technologies and a fast network is helping manufacturers better maintain their assets and boost efficiency in production.

Manufacturers today face unprecedented pressure. They must manage evermore complex global supply chains and new logistics models, embrace new ways of working, and cope with the constant threat of cyberattacks. Customers are demanding more customized products. Yet, customer loyalty is more difficult to maintain as competition intensifies. Plus, all of this is playing out against the backdrop of a growing skilled-labor shortage.

To relieve these pressures, more and more ambitious manufacturing companies are now harnessing faster networks, IoT and other technologies.

Here’s some of the ways IoT can help benefit manufacturing companies:

Workforce productivity: Manufacturers can use mobile IoT solutions to empower their employees. With near real-time factory floor insights, employees can quickly locate and manage assets, monitor materials for quality, and improve worker safety.

Predictive maintenance: Remotely monitoring equipment with IoT helps ensure machines are properly calibrated for optimal use and high-quality output. It also means predictive maintenance. This can help manufacturers save time and money by repairing or replacing equipment before it fails.

Supply chain management: Tracking the location of assets in transit lets manufacturers predict when shipments will arrive. Paired with near real-time analytics, fleet solutions can provide end-to-end visibility of goods throughout the supply chain.

Near real-time insights: With IoT sensors and other devices deployed on the factory floor and across the supply chain, manufacturers can gain near real-time actionable insights via data analytics. But this requires an IoT asset management platform that supports multiple devices, communication protocols, networks and cloud environments, and that integrates with existing enterprise systems.

IoT in Action: Data and Insights on a Global Scale

One global manufacturer, for example, turned to IoT to boost performance in all these areas. As a leader in the design, production and servicing of commercial products, it embedded connectivity inside the goods and services it brings to market. This combined with a global mobility solution provided access to near real-time information and insights for the company’s research and development teams and its service technicians in the field. Remote technicians were further supported with a fleet management solution that promoted safety and efficiency.  

Back on the factory floor, Wi-Fi coverage and end-to-end network services meant on-demand capabilities. This helps the company optimize operations and more easily scale capacity up or down to cope with business fluctuations.

Overall, this combination of connectivity and data helped create a complete view of the company’s assets including manufacturing equipment, inventory, vehicles, installed units and people, and their individual capacity and performance. Finally, to ensure this information remained a competitive advantage, and not a liability, the entire network is secured through the cloud.

This manufacturer is both large and global. It’s not unique in its need for greater insight into operations. IoT solutions can help manufacturing companies of any size to scale and respond in near real-time to their operational and market challenges.

It doesn’t stop with IoT. We could see other technologies being adopted to improve the manufacturing industry such as 5G, or 5th generation mobile networks.

Along with Samsung Electronics America, Inc. and Samsung Austin Semiconductor, LLC., we’re working towards the future of Industry 4.0 connected manufacturing. The idea is to provide insights into the future of a smart factory. We’re working together to explore use cases and technologies such as industrial IOT sensors that monitor for environmental and equipment conditions like vibration, temperature and speed as well as location services to help improve safety. 5G promises to someday have a significant impact on manufacturing by helping to unlock new experiences in augmented reality, powerful machine learning and intelligent robotics.

The future of manufacturing is already here through IoT and on-demand, next-generation networking technologies. What makes the shift to Industry 4.0 even more exciting is that it goes far beyond manufacturing to transform not only how modern factories work, but also how things are designed, used and serviced.

David Van Dorselaer is General Manager of Manufacturing & Transportation Industry at AT&T Business.

More in Industry 4.0