The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) was the overwhelming theme of this year’s Industry Week Manufacturing & Technology Conference & Expo (M&T), which I attended May 3-5, 2016. IIoT, which has been called the 4th Industrial Revolution, is not something that might come to be, but instead is already here and happening.
IIoT is definitely taking hold in all areas and fields of manufacturing, and it makes sense for companies of all sizes.
IIoT is no longer just a data collection tool for equipment like HVAC units. IIoT is very diverse and capable and can be used to monitor one small piece of equipment or thousands of large pieces. And in addition to monitoring equipment and helping with predictive maintenance (PdM), IIoT can now help watch over your manufacturing processes, ensuring quality is maintained for product leaving the line.
The other thing that stood out was the data collection and analytics integrated into these systems. All systems are compatible and able to manage the data from any vendor that supplies the hardware for IIoT, and you can select systems that only do certain analytics, store data, or you can rent time or quantity of data analytics by volume or time utilized.
The ability to implement the systems in small steps and modules, as well as the option of renting and paying for it as you go, makes IIoT and its benefits more easily attainable for smaller companies. It also allows you, with little investment, to truly see if it would benefit your daily operations.
Another noteworthy thing I observed at the conference was visual documentation platforms that allow you to make documents available to your employees to be viewed on smart phones, Kindles, or other tablet screens. If you train employees and provide them with a screen, they can access training documentation or work instructions whenever they are needed. Any changes can be updated instantly so all employees have access to the new information at the same time. You can save old revisions and use them for returns or repair when needed. Most systems allow simultaneous use at multiple plants and if you are in the service business, your field staff can be equipped with a smart phone and have access to all information—no more having to call the home office to get the right information. This technology also allows field staff to interact with home office tech support in a virtual world if desired. The benefits of visual documentation platforms are fewer errors, reduction of potential injuries, and a quicker learning curve.
Contract maintenance was another key item at M&T. Many of the service companies offer IIoT capabilities and some will even do the install, monitoring, and analytics for you. This means you don’t have to get involved in the hows, just in selecting what you want and how much you want to invest.
Many vendors have systems that work with most or all equipment, from standard off-the-shelf machine tools to custom-made, one-of-a-kind machinery, and that are able to be implemented in a step process, so you don’t have to hook up all of your equipment at one time and can choose what to add and when to add it. This makes many of those high-tech systems truly affordable to anyone in manufacturing, not just the large corporations.