The Internet of Things brings a new Industrial Revolution to the Factory Floor

It might be an uninspiring moniker but the reality of the 'internet of things' (IoT) has the potential to be anything but. This next evolutionary step for the internet could potentially herald a seismic shift in the way that manufacturers interpret 'Big Data' to make plant floor processes faster and more accurate, and decision making more immediate.

What is the internet of things? describe the IoT as “a scenario in which objects, animals or people are provided with unique identifiers and the ability to automatically transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” And those boundless data-sharing capabilities give rise to a “harmonious coexistence of devices, applications and processes across the entire industrial enterprise,” according to Industrial IP Advantage.

Industry Week

In effect, we could be looking at a world in which smart plant machinery predicts and corrects a fault before it even causes long-lasting damage. That's just one scenario of a movement that's being dubbed as 'the fourth industrial revolution' or Industry 4.0.

How will the IoT benefit the Process Industry?

Leading industry experts, Cisco, predicts that the IoT could be worth $14 trillion over the next decade and will become an invaluable tool to help manufacturers to maximise asset lifespan, as well as driving efficiencies up and energy usage down. “Smart manufacturing companies will use analytics to enact smarter decisions and more efficient operations,” they say.

Industrial IP Advantage agree. They add, “Tapping the potential in a new generation of networking and analytical platforms capable of processing vast streams of industrial data will break down walls between operational domains to spur integration, collaboration and creativity.”

So what we might see is Research and Development departments collaborating more closely with manufacturing planners, bringing new products to market far quicker. Individual pieces of equipment will be transformed into smart devices in their own right as the rise of Internet Protocol (IP) enabled microprocessors proliferate further. And data will become richer and more relevant, optimising decision making processes for man and machine.

The IoT in action at the Siemens Electronic Works

The Siemens Electronic Works facility in Amberg, Germany is a 108,000-sq foot shining example of IoT in practice. Here, a dazzling array of whirring smart machines seamlessly manage the production and distribution of the technology behemoth's Simatic control devices. “A custom, built-to-order process involving more than 1.6 billion components for over 50,000 annual product variations, for which Siemens sources about 10,000 materials from 250 suppliers to make the plant’s 950 different products,” according to Industry Week.

That's an exceptionally complex operation before you even factor in a workforce of more than 1,000 employees to coordinate on top. Not a problem for a smart factory so cleverly connected that is it is the very epitome of 'Vorsprung durch Technik' (sorry Audi).

Industry Week continues, “And yet, according to a Gartner Industry Research study conducted on the plant in 2010, the Amberg factory only records about 15 defects per million and enjoys a 99% reliability rate and 100% traceability on its expansive lines.” Not bad don't you think?!

Is the internet of things really the fourth industrial revolution? Or will good old fashioned man power always prevail? Have your say.


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