Internet of Things technology has changed the way the manufacturing industry functions. IoT is best known for improving efficiencies – smart lightbulbs and heating systems – and improving monitoring for factory equipment to speed up maintenance and reduce downtime and costs.
But the truly interesting aspect is how it can change the business processes.
IoT can allows different ways of production – exponentially accelerating the ability of factories to re-tool and change production schedules. It is already allowing some companies to massively increase the number of products they can offer and the reduce the size of orders and production runs. Items can be designed and offered if not individually then certainly by customer order.
Successful IoT projects can also radically integrate supply and logistics chains and the ability to link to customer systems.
Exploiting the benefits of IoT between companies requires open or at least shared standards.
A recent survey from HPE found 38 per cent of respondents cited worries about standards as a barrier to adapting IoT.
But 40 per cent blamed cultural issues within their company and a further 30 per cent cultural issues within their customer segment.
Germany is at the forefront of embracing Industry 4.0 and many firms there have followed a similar three step journey.
IoT has been used first to speed up vertical integration – to improve data collection and flow within the enterprise.
The second step has been the use of the technology to improve lifecycle management of products from development, to market and feeding back to fuel continual development.
Thirdly German companies are using IoT to improve horizontal integration which changes a classic value chain into a value network with data and expertise shared between companies.
Chief Information Officers are also realising that IoT projects are changing the shape of their IT infrastructure.
It changing the focus from central data centres to the edges of organisation where the data is being created.
As projects grow so there is a huge growth in data collected. But piping all this data back to central data centres, or to the cloud, is an expensive and often unnecessary overhead.
The most famous example is from aviation – individual engines have several thousand sensors. Combining these with other devices on the plane means each flight creates hundreds of terabytes of data. This data has a value in modelling and further improving engine design, but there is also a need to carry out more immediate maintenance tasks based on analysis of the information.
Dealing with all this maintenance data needs to be done locally rather than piped back to headquarters.
HPE calls this the intelligent edge and is already shipping products like the Micro Datacenter which can be literally wheeled onto factory floors to deal with tidal wave of information, crunch the numbers and provide instant insight.
It comes with its own power supply and cooling system and can survive the less than perfect environment likely to be found on a factory floor. It can be loaded with converged hardware and whatever applications are needed.
IoT is bringing big changes to many areas of business. The next change will be in the shape of the technology platforms which are required to support these projects and turn the data collected into action.