It’s the age of compute, connect, and control when instead of skimming over technology jargons, it is prudent to take the ‘plunge’ to understand disruptive technologies and the implications. The power of harnessing Big Data, predictive computing technologies, and the Internet of things (IoT) are the trending topics in the digital world.
Can IoT prove to be an integrating factor for diverse businesses in a dynamically-evolving digital environment? “IoT is still in the early days and there isn’t a set of universal standards yet. Therefore, finding specific customers and specific customer problems becomes even more critical,” entrepreneur, adventurer, and occasional geek Alec Saunders has said.
In about a decade or so, the economic impact of IoT that is expected to go up from $4 trillion to $11 trillion. In such a scenario, “It’s important that leaders in more organizations investigate this incredible technology revolution and the impact it can have on their businesses,” opines Nicholas Butler, Senior Group Manager, Embedded Systems Product Marketing, National Instruments.
IoT is all about re-imaging things: business process, customer experiences. So, why not take a deep dive into the world of the processing, computing, and analytics capabilities of emerging technologies that are transforming businesses? Note that the big 5 – AT&T, Cisco, GE, IBM, and Intel are creating a new ecosystem to expose the uses of Industrial Internet.
Let’s consider the example of GE Transportation (GET), which has been at the forefront of solving the world’s toughest rail challenges for over 100 years now! Freight railroads contribute 42% of the US freight economy to transport innumerable products ranging from milk to auto. With the already-taxed freight requirement set to double in the next 25 years the main challenge glaring at businesses is the issue of building capacity. GET came up with an IoT solution! Instead of laying new tracks, the existing railroad has been used with faster speeds and greater efficiency! Railroad velocity boost by 10%, an improved railroad crew management, and using the existing railroad resources efficiently among other things have brought in results that have optimized railroad infrastructure. Incidentally, GET also took a collaborative route with Norfolk Southern Railroad that operates approximately 20,000 route miles in 22 states and the District of Columbia, providing connections to other rail carriers and serving every major container port in eastern US.
A few more cases: Marquee car brands are using the IoT architecture to anticipate customer service requirements. Ditto is the case with FMCG players and those in the industrial engineering domain. The ability to anticipate the ‘behavior’ of a product through its life-cycle (turbine or a brake auto part) and provide timely learning interventions reflects the increasing need to prioritize as to how IoT works in reality. In Germany, for instance, a supermarket has an entire supply chain management mechanism in place without human interface. Right from the entry point to the purchase point, the use of sensory-tracking device technology is only reinforcing the relevance of IoT in business environments. Monitoring trends such as machinery failure or systemic faults can be simulated and anticipated through predictive data enabling learners to fit into their roles more easily.
Many of the manufacturing plants that use IoT technology as part of their best practices are the same organizations that produce the hardware that helps other companies take advantage of the IoT ecosystem.
Elevator manufacturer ThyssenKrupp has leveraged IoT to dramatically change the game in elevator reliability through predictive and even preemptive service. Chipmaker Intel has used IoT technology to save $9 million. Caterpillar’s mining division Aquila has installed more than 35 surface mine control systems in more than 20 different coal, iron, copper, and gold mines in Canada, the US, Australia, South Africa, and Russia.
These examples of IoT in manufacturing illustrate how, “the cycle of production can be analyzed and made more efficient. At any scale the end value is making more money from improving processes and saving people’s time,” says Mike Maas, a Technical Evangelist at Cisco.
“The Internet of Things for manufacturing is a wide open field and it depends on what part of the ecosystem you want to play in,” says Alec Saunders, Technology Ecosystem, Platform and Developer Relations Leader. “In factory automation systems there is a lot of innovation that can be done on factory floor, but there is also room for innovation in supply chain and inventory management, and many other areas. There is really no one-size fits all solution.”
On a more granular scale, imagine being able to reduce the product cycle time to 6 to 9 months from say a 6 to 8 year life-cycle in highly capital-intensive technologies such as jet turbines or locomotives or even medical devices (having an amazing array of innumerable sensors)!
“It’s great to know where your delivery trucks are, but if your factory is really tied to energy and smart city systems, you can use telematics to prevent workers from standing around, leaving the lights on and waiting for a truck that is running late. As connected systems come together, analytics from a previously isolated system will influence efficiency of the others in new and useful ways,” Maas says.
Retrace to a corporate environment: be it fire-fighting exercises to tide over business challenges or unforeseen situations, data-powered solutions work. Gone are the days when information silos were in operation and things were done sequentially. Real-time situations are putting emphasis on data architecture, tools, and technologies. Enterprises globally are being forced to re-think hierarchical and linear processes. Open environments and the rapid pace of technology adoption are making real-time solutions possible using measurable data. In fact, having cyclical structures are far more effective. Even in a machine to machine interfacing scenario, the transfer and interpretation of data is done in a way that enables the ‘instruction-receiving’ machines to adjust operations based on real-time data from the machine source! Therefore, increasingly, technologies that are immersive, predictive, perceptive, and pervasive are what will drive the outcomes for enterprises.
Manufacturing IoT from the Factory Floor white paper by The Application Developers Alliance Emerging Technology Working Group
A new McKinsey Global Institute report, The Internet of Things: Mapping the value beyond the hype