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Leveraging IoT for Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) - Dispelling the Cost & Feasibility Myth of IoT

The term “Internet of Things” (IoT) has been a heavily publicized buzzword as of late, especially in the consumer world and now in the manufacturing space. The best definition of the term IoT centers on the hardware and software related to electronic devices that can collect, process, and stream information without any human intervention. Now from this standpoint, manufacturers have been using IoT for ages. This concept is gaining popularity due to the dramatic decrease in cost to purchase and deploy these smart sensors and devices. In actuality, manufacturers have been utilizing IoT in more of an “Intranet of Things” for a very long time. However, they have been running locally instead of on the cloud, making data utilization and accessibility much more difficult.

Utilization of sensors for simple readings such as temperature, run rate, moisture, etc. are commonplace for manufacturers. Integrating these readings into a Process Control System (PCS), or having it display on a screen at a workstation or streamed through a Programmable Logic Controller (PLC) has been common practice. Advanced sensors such as 3D laser micrometers and in-motion weight checkers are also available with built in toolsets to auto-reject or preemptively halt production. All of these devices and sensors can be classified as an IoT device. Stringing these readings together with multiple machines and sensors is another matter; though enabling one to utilize data offsite, perform big data analysis, and receive automated alerts, recently been made easier with the big IoT push.

When it comes to IoT for manufacturers, the changes that have the greatest impact lie within the push for more consistent data output and integration. Though there is still dramatic room for improvement, it has become easier to deal with multiple vendors and data syntaxes and formats from IoT sensors with a smart software platform. Therefore, manufacturers can begin looking into “sensorizing” and digitizing their entire facility from machine operations to fully manual labor processes. Integration, utilization and monitoring of these IoT sensors and its data can be dealt with by a software provider and manufacturers can reap the benefits of instantaneous reporting and alerts and begin big data analysis for facility improvements and optimization.

The market has provided manufacturers now with an array of cost effective and many off the shelf options for sensing. Advanced sensors have dropped in pricing with new vendors showing up forcing prices down and demanding higher quality, fidelity and accuracy for high end sensors. This means it has become easier for SMEs to take advantage of these new sensors to turn traditional facilities into the same data generating smart facilities that are shown as being on the cutting edge of manufacturing. An important point to highlight is that it is entirely possible for an older facility with existing equipment to perform just as well as heavily modernized and automated facilities if it utilizes tight visibility and control through the effective deployment of IoT sensors and has a platform capable of leveraging this data along with other manufacturing operations.

The key to successful utilization of IoT for SMEs lies in understanding the pain points of a facility and taking in feedback from workers and personnel. There is little immediate value in sensorizing a part of the production process if it is not going to provide cost savings and/or quality improvements. IoT devices should be utilized to eliminate the need for human monitoring and to gain tighter control over manual and automated processes. For instance, applying a temperature sensor to immediately send alerts when temperature thresholds exceed normal tolerance for an older printing line that does not have an automated production halt option. This will free up personnel from constant monitoring and improve worker efficiency and utilization at the same time ensuring consistent quality of production. Another example is the application of an infrared sensor to a conveyer belt between two manual work stations to detect when a unit work in process (WIP) unit passes through a certain point. This enables automated unit counting and reporting back to management and can be utilized for notification of when upstream machines need to be realigned without the need for manual counting.

SMEs are fully capable of utilizing very inexpensive IoT sensors when paired with the correct software platform to incrementally improve on cost reductions and quality improvements. The number of available sensors in the market is ever growing and it is up to SMEs to begin the process of identifying within their own production processes the areas that can benefit the most. IoT is not restricted to large multi-nationals, if anything, SMEs have the most value to gain from this new wave of IoT devices.


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