There aren’t many buzzwords that have caught my ear quite like the “Internet of Things (IoT).” What a nebulous, all-encompassing phrase. The possibilities are endless! It’s up there with my awe of the Cloud. (Think the Toy Story “The Claaaaaaw” voice and replace it with “The Clouuuuuud”). How could such a power phrase impact everyday business in the manufacturing space?

I recently attended an IoT bootcamp presented by Brian Tol from SpinDance. The webinar gave participants a crash course on the fundamentals of the IoT. In this blog, I will summarize real-life applications of the Internet of Things and what it takes for an organization to implement this powerful concept.

Engineer looking at notes in manufacturing space

IoT Defined

According to Brian Tol, the IoT is comprised of three primary building blocks: physical devices, internet connectivity, and digital services. And with the development of the 5G network, the IoT continues to explode.

I describe the IoT as any device, instrument, or service that collects, cleans, and summarizes data, stores and processes that data, and generates meaningful reports to derive valuable information from that data.

For example, an appliance could track the usage of a certain commodity and automatically order more based on the consumer’s usage. A package that has a microchip embedded in it could track and log shipping information to help further target a specific consumer demographic. A medical device could automatically log and analyze vital data that would allow for earlier intervention. The list of applications is endless.

My background is manufacturing engineering within the pharmaceutical, automotive, and food production industries. My experience has spanned from concept and product design, all the way to capital project management for new product lines. As I engaged with the IoT bootcamp, I kept gravitating to the practical IoT applications I could make in that sphere. To me, the two key areas that greatly benefit from IoT implementation include product development and manufacturing technology.

IoT and Product Development

Do you have an idea you think would just blow the socks off your consumer? Are you solving THE problem they have—that one problem that no one else has been able to solve? My question to you would be, “How do you know?” What information are you deriving your next product development from?

Sure, there are manual ways to determine whether or not your consumer likes the product, utilizing tools like surveys or market research. But by the time that information has been gathered, analyzed, and iterated into the next version of the product, it might be too late. The feedback loop can be incredibly slow. As industries continue to advance, techniques like this could become obsolete.

To stay ahead in this ever-changing world, you need real-time data, now.

This is where the IoT comes into play. Data gathered from a product in the marketplace could generate real-time analytics that could instantly contribute to the next iteration of your product. The feedback loop is incredibly swift, absolutely streamlining agile project management. This will save real time and real dollars in the product development space.

IoT and Manufacturing Tech Solutions

The two primary goals of EVERY manufacturing organization are to lower costs and increase efficiencies. While these may sound like simple goals, deriving a plan to achieve these metrics is often challenging. The IoT could be applied in a manufacturing setting to help meet these targets.

Imagine a continuous process where an operator has several touch points on a machine. This machine is rather large, and it takes a period of time to traverse this machine. The operator has been trained on how to keep the machine running but spends a large portion of their time moving from one end of the machine to the other. This reactionary method of operating the machine causes unnecessary, additional work for the operator and could lead to downtime events.

Engineer working with IoT in a manufacturing plant

The IoT would not only decrease downtime events due to this travel time but would also streamline and optimize the operator’s route through the shift. By implementing data collection sensors and instruments on the machine, the IoT would be able to predict where the operator needed to be next in order to keep the process running optimally.

Instead of the operator going to Stations 1, then 2, then 3, the IoT could determine that the actual optimum route should be Stations 2, 3, then 1. The operator benefits because their actions have a meaningful and proactive result on the process with less wasted time and energy. The plant benefits from increased efficiency due to the reduction in wasted actions.

IoT Requires Change Management

As described above, the IoT can be incredibly valuable if applied and implemented correctly. But in these examples above, the IoT mentality would already be bought into by the organization. They would have already worked the bugs out and be actively utilizing the IoT. What if your organization isn’t utilizing the IoT? How do you get there? According to Brian Tol’s presentation, 75% of IoT projects fail for a variety of reasons.

Top 8 Reasons for IoT failure

The baseline, minimum requirement is a good company culture. The IoT will affect everyone in the organization, from the operator and product developer to the sales executive and C-suite. To implement the IoT is to implement change. To be successful in implementing change, you must have a healthy, team-focused environment. Implementation is not easy; it requires diligence and a focused effort.

I would argue that exceptional communication is the number one skill required by your IoT implementation team.

To some, the IoT will be overwhelming, and those individuals could easily disengage, fighting against this new initiative. It will be critical for the IoT champions to communicate the value of the IoT. For example, if an operator doesn’t buy into the IoT, the data collected will be incomplete. If the operator is included in the implementation as a partner from the beginning, they will own it and will be empowered to optimize the process.

The IoT is a powerful tool that will drive up efficiencies, lower design costs, and make a better overall consumer experience, IF implemented correctly.

The road to excelling in this new environment will require hard work and change. A healthy culture will help foster the IoT in your organization and allow a smoother transition from implementation to using this technology in every aspect of the business. How would your company benefit from an IoT implementation? I’d love to hear your feedback in the comments below.

Is your team ready to transition into the IoT? Our team at DISHER can help! We support Advanced Manufacturing projects and offer culture and organizational development opportunities that will assist in your IoT journey.

Check out SpinDance’s website to sign-up and attend an IoT Boot Camp: a fast-paced course that covers a variety of business and technology topics and is designed to help business leaders, product managers, designers, engineers, and marketers get up to speed with the IoT landscape.