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Data and Mobility: The Nuts and Bolts of IoT in Factories

By Special Guest
John Graff, Chief Revenue Officer, Xplore Technologies
May 29, 2018

Processes are automated, machines are learning, and factories have become data centers. The Industry 4.0 revolution has been fueled by the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is only gaining steam.

Manufacturers and supply chains are the true beneficiaries of these emerging technologies. According to a report published by Accenture, companies that introduce automation and more flexible production techniques to manufacturing can boost productivity by as much as 30 percent. Even greater benefits will continue to emerge now that IoT has been implemented within the start of the supply chain including real-time data analytics. Factories are now equipped with sensors and automated machines that work together to gather data, learn, improve efficiency, and improve the bottom line.

The nuts and bolts of IoT
To truly understand how IoT is impacting factories and evolving them into technology hubs, it is important to understand what technology is being incorporated into them. There are three main components:

  • Sensory devices: In order to use the data to improve factories, it first has to be collected. Sensors measure everything from machine speeds to temperatures of the machines and the floor on which they operate. There are also GPS and traceability sensors that aid with inventory management – and every single one of them needs to be monitored, accounted for, and optimized.
  • Rugged mobility devices: Gone are the days where workers need to sit in a central control room to activate machinery, troubleshoot equipment, and coordinate tasks. With smart devices like rugged tablets and handheld computers, control can be decentralized. This mobile control provides agility and improved coordination on the floor. They play a critical role in managing sensory devices, as well as the equipment to which they are attached. Not only do rugged tablets and handhelds enable technicians to remotely monitor sensor performance, they also provide the I/O required to directly plug into sensory devices to extract diagnostic information and make repairs when needed. Not to mention, these devices come in rugged builds, providing peace of mind that no matter the environment, they will operate as intended.
  • Cloud infrastructure: With all of the data being collected and analyzed, it all has to live somewhere. Cloud connectivity binds the IoT factory together. The cloud provides improved security measures and the ability to update mobile device and machinery software remotely – saving both time and money.

Recall how traditional factories relied on specific engineers to identify problems, and fix machinery that has broken down. In some cases, technicians from the machines’ manufacturers would be needed to come into the factory to make repairs leading to days or even weeks of unscheduled downtime. Now, these factories and their in-house engineers can use the information collected by sensors and distributed to rugged mobile computers to see problems arise in real-time and plan accordingly, mitigating downtime and equipment failure. Manufacturers can even install remote updates and patches into machines’ operating systems via their tablet or handheld device. This proactive maintenance not only improves output of factories, but it helps to keep the IoT operating in earnest. Such remote operability opens up critical time for engineers and workers to focus on their roles.

Consider auto industry workers: They can now use their smart, rugged mobile computing devices to upload software and perform diagnostics with vehicles’ operating systems. Workers who assemble the body of the car can now see the internal workings of the engine and transmission systems – creating a more educated workforce with end-to-end visibility on the assembly line. Each worker becomes an IT specialist, manufacturer, mechanic, and problem-solver. The power of IoT within factories is the expanded capabilities of everyone and everything in all industries.

Data is the key, rugged mobile technology is the enabler
How do internet-connected devices help factories and revolutionize the way things are created? The answer lies within the volumes of data collected within these factories. Smart factories are using this data to improve existing machine processes and introduce new processes as necessary. The continuous learning and tweaking of systems and practices is what makes IoT so valuable. However, machines are not the only beneficiaries of these new efficiency gains.

The data collected within smart factories is now being analyzed in real-time by engineers and technicians to understand what is working and what can be improved thanks to rugged mobility solutions being incorporated onto factory floors. Workers in all roles are now able to interpret data sets right in their hands and use that knowledge to improve their individual output. The data flows between machines and technicians freely, providing unprecedented views into the interoperability of the machines’ individual micro-systems within the macro environment of the factory.

The data being generated by these geographically-dispersed workers and systems can even be sent to technology partners for customization and expert consultation using a wirelessly-connected tablet, handheld, or 2-in-1 device. Technology partners can provide key context and frame what a specific set of data means to the larger picture via email, chat, augmented reality applications, or real-time video conferences. Having the tools to facilitate such a granular analysis of collected data is a key benefit of selecting the right mobile computing technologies, no matter which advanced IoT or automation technologies you choose to layer on.

The visibility that rugged mobile computers provide to workers on manufacturing and warehousing floors also lends to greater strategic thinking and goal-setting. Workers in different parts of the factory now have greater understanding and context of the whole process. Though each worker on the floor may be responsible for one role – harkening back to the assembly line Henry Ford pioneered – they now can learn and share with others what their role is and how it fits into the holistic environment of the factory.

The future is now
Combining the computing power of machines with the problem-solving skills of workers equipped with mobile computing technologies gives smart factories the power to improve quality, efficiency and productivity. Capturing real-time data sets via powerful tablets, handheld, or 2-in-1 computers in conjunction with sensor-equipped machines allows for more strategic benchmarking of performance and output goals.

Industry 4.0 is here. The world will become more autonomous, connected and efficient. With IoT, factories will undergo a seismic shift in how they operate, but the shift will yield valuable results and breakthroughs in processing and manufacturing. Choosing the right equipment – from the machines themselves to the right mobility solutions to support them – can not only revolutionize the factory setting, but the industry overall.

About the author: John Graff is the Chief Revenue Officer of Xplore Technologies.




Edited by Ken Briodagh


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