IIoT: A catalyst for new discoveries in the "NOW normal"


In the last decade, technology significantly changed nearly every aspect of life, from how we live to how we work. Particularly as the Internet of Things (IoT) ushered in a new era for consumers with connected vehicles, voice assistants, wearables and fitness trackers, it is easy to overlook the fact that IoT is also serving as the foundation for Industrial IoT (IIoT), as well as a way to move forward in the NOW normal, where COVID-19 has disrupted every industry, from retail to manufacturing. Suddenly, automotive companies are being called on to help produce personal protective equipment (PPE). Brands that supply hand sanitizers and wipes are challenged to keep pace with demand, and retail is being upended as new distribution centers are popping up to meet online ordering and curbside pick-up. Even fleet management is taking on new meaning as supply chains are being disrupted. 

Rapidly adopting connected technologies, organizations are utilizing robotics, drones, artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics to optimize productivity and harmonize workflows. By harnessing the value of data collected through distributed sensors and assets, they are also incrementally improving outcomes for risk management, operational safety, maintenance, performance optimization and operational excellence. Some of today’s most advanced IIoT applications are helping to collapse cost and complexity, with seamless connectivity, data management and control, cloud storage and workflow, reporting and alert functions informing a wide range of enterprise activity. In retail, for example, smart shelves, contactless pay terminals and sensors help monitor everything from inventory to customer browse time. That’s important technology for grocery stores and big box retailers enforcing social distancing and keeping track of stock. Shoppers ordering online, in particular, are finding shortages with certain items, like desks and dumbbells, due to remote work and school as well as gyms still shuttered. Any insight into inventory will help keep consumers informed and coming back.

Smart sensors are also helping facilities management companies and real estate developers monitor residential and commercial properties from the build phase and beyond, with data analytics providing insights into potential hazards, energy efficiency, accessibility and occupancy. In the now normal, office vacancies are at an all-time high as millions of employees work from home. Being able to monitor building activity is critical for property managers concerned about keeping facilities secure while capacity is significantly reduced. When employees and occupants do return, there are a range of technologies that provide touchless access to office spaces, elevators, building entryways and other areas, which will be helpful in ensuring peace of mind as people return to physical shared spaces.

Within the trucking and logistics industry, electronic logging devices communicating with sensors are driving efficiency and optimizing fleets for government agencies and private enterprises alike. Monitoring and analyzing—in real time—driver behavior, hours of service, fuel efficiency, electric battery charge, compliance information and driver vehicle inspection reports among other things, telematics are playing an integral role in securing the supply chain while helping states incrementally achieve milestones in their aggressive green initiatives to combat environmental challenges.

In the now normal, ensuring goods are delivered on time is as critical as combatting climate change. Just consider the cold chain supply, where monitoring the location and temperature of perishable food products and medicines is crucial right down to the last mile. In addition to reducing loss, real-time monitoring ensures the quality, safety, lifespan and effectiveness of vital medications and pharmaceuticals, as well as their timely delivery. In fact, IIoT is quickly transforming the entire healthcare ecosystem, with invaluable data collected from connected devices amalgamated to help improve patient diagnoses and outcomes. Recognizing the value of assessment and management of a wide range of health conditions at home, physicians and health professionals are more empowered than ever to advance critical fields of medicine such as cardiopulmonary, vascular, endocrine, neurological and rehabilitation.

On a global scale, IIoT holds the potential to transform the international shipping industry, which according to the International Chamber of Shipping carries approximately 90 percent of the world’s trade. The latest analysis from the World Shipping Council (WSC) indicates that the international liner shipping industry transports approximately 130 million containers packed with cargo at an estimated value of more than $4 trillion annually. Every year, however, roughly $50 billion in revenue is lost due to cargo theft or damage throughout the logistics supply chain. Sensors providing real-time breach detection are mitigating risk and preventing cargo loss while providing data insights benefitting shipping companies, security service providers, high-value cargo owners and insurers alike. With the industry reporting plummeting shipping rates since the outbreak began in China and forced production shutdowns, minimizing loss is more important than ever.

In fact, manufacturing, which was once America's number one industry, may stand to gain the most from IIoT technologies. McKinsey reports that while the U.S. still accounts for 20 percent of the world’s manufacturing activity and remains the second-largest manufacturing nation in the world, two decades of decline have dramatically reduced labor’s share of U.S. GDP. In January 2019, the World Economic Forum revealed 16 beacons of technology and innovation in manufacturing that are using IIoT technologies to transform every aspect of production, from the plant floor to the end user experience. Using sensors and wireless devices, these “Lighthouses” serve as models for digital manufacturing and exhibit all of the essential characteristics of Industry 4.0. By investing in IIoT technologies to upgrade plants and equipment, the U.S. stands a reasonable and realistic chance of revitalizing the manufacturing sector, with the potential of raising manufacturing GDP by more than $500 billion annually.

Connectivity is central to not only breaking out of productivity stagnation but also designing a resilient, smart workforce in hazardous sectors such as the $10 trillion global construction industry, where injuries and fatalities rank the highest of any occupation. According to the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration, construction accidents account for nearly one in four U.S. work-related fatalities each year. Surveillance drones, as well as sensors embedded in wristbands, apparel and personal protective equipment such as gloves, boots, hardhats and safety vests are slowly gaining traction and have the potential to drastically reduce thousands of injuries and illnesses not to mention help with contact tracing to alert workers about OCVID exposures. No longer viewed as superfluous gadgets for fitness buffs and health fanatics, enterprise wearables alone have the potential to reshape the workplace in every field, from science to agricultural.

Access to IIoT technologies and shared information not only help businesses expand into new territories but also support remote employees, create new experiences for customers and evolve entire industries. By now, we have clearly seen if not personally experienced the impact from the events of 2020 so far. On one hand, people may be waiting it out and hoping the world returns to normal. On the other hand, innovators are moving forward, working to bring to light truly remarkable solutions that are bound to change our lives in ways we would have otherwise never imagined. As technology progresses, IIoT will continue to benefit the industrial sector and beyond, ensuring that operations around the globe become safer, more collaborative and more efficient, while at the same serving as a catalyst for new discoveries that will lead us to a healthier, more connected future.

About the author: Greg Kahn is president and CEO of the Internet of Things Consortium (IoTC) and one of the most connected and engaged members of the Internet of Things (IoT) community. With more than 20 years of experience working in the media and technology industries at well-established companies such as Viacom, Publicis Groupe and Omnicom, Greg established IoTC in 2016, using his influence and remarkable network to build a premier IoT group focused on driving the industry forward. Today, the association serves dozens of companies within the IoT space and covers five core areas of IoT including smart cities, home automation, wearables, connected cars and retail transformation, with a roster of members including Verizon, Comcast, T-Mobile, Mastercard, Ericsson, Procter & Gamble, Nestle, ADT Security, LG Electronics, Cox, Whirlpool, Bank of America, SwissRe and over 30 startups.

Edited by Ken Briodagh

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