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How The IoT Is Changing Mass Manufacturing

The Internet of Things (IoT) is no longer a new phenomenon. But it’s certainly one that’s still growing and branching out. To that point, we have written in the past about the near future of the IoT, specifically citing forecasts of some 42.6 billion IoT devices (generating 79.4ZB of data) by the year 2025.

That kind of growth is almost difficult to comprehend, but it’s going to come through a diverse range of channels. For instance, it’s clear that the “smart home” concept is only just getting started, and in the years ahead we’ll see countless new applications and devices in people’s homes.

Similarly, the IoT is also expected to be at the core of new progress toward “smart cities,” such that it will be deployed through millions of devices to analyze and optimize traffic patterns, drive energy conservation, and more. Beyond these exciting areas though, there will also be some more behind-the-scenes channels for IoT expansion — such as manufacturing processes in large industries.

Have you read “IDC: Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul lead in IoT readiness in APAC“?

There are three ways in particular that we can already see the IoT making an impact in manufacturing, and it’s these concepts that only figure to grow with time.

Equipment Monitoring

Taking an overarching look at the IoT in manufacturing even several years ago, Industry Week pointed to “fewer product defects” as one of the benefits companies were seeing. In fact, more specifically, it referred to a survey that indicated 49% of companies were noticeably experiencing fewer product defects. This can be due in part to IoT sensors’ ability to directly monitor product quality. However, it’s also a result of better monitoring and maintenance of equipment.

Indeed, the IoT can effectively enable manufacturing equipment in warehouses and production facilities to maintain itself. Machines connected to the IoT can send signals, either when they’re short on relevant resources, when they’re nearly in need of repair, or if they happen to break or malfunction. This allows warehouse managers and people in similar positions to head off problems quickly and ensures that the machines controlling products are doing so just as they’re meant to — which in turn ensures product quality.

Product Customization and Control

Modern practices in manufacturing, particularly when connected to the IoT, can also make products more customizable and controllable from the moment the production process begins. Consider, for instance, a process like CNC machining, which is used in so many manufacturing efforts today. Fictiv outlines the numerous production and finishing processes that CNC machining can involve today, and these give manufacturers a great deal of control over how products are made from the start. However, the fact that this is a digitally automated process also opens the door to further control via the IoT.

Essentially, we expect to see more manufacturers connecting CNC machining and other production methods (such as 3D printing) to broader systems, such that they can respond exactly and in real-time to relevant signals. That may mean anything from automatically adopting and implementing a design change, to processing orders and starting to fulfill product demand on their own.

Distribution Efficiency

Beyond the actual manufacturing process, the IoT is also expected to significantly impact supply chains, and in fact, has already begun to do just that. Indeed, just as IoT devices, sensors, and systems can be connected to machine equipment in warehouses, they can also be used to outfit shipping fleets and even stores or offices in a way that automates much of the supply chain process.

Business Insider honed in on IoT fleet management as perhaps a particularly interesting aspect of all of this. The idea, which is already in practice in some major fleets, is that sensors can track inventory, monitor driving conditions, and even keep tabs on vehicle tendencies and conditions. All of this leads to a treasure trove of data that can be implemented – sometimes automatically and sometimes via manager influence — to drive strategists that improve distribution efficiency.

Through all of these concepts, the IoT is indeed poised to change the very nature of mass manufacturing. This, in turn, will account for a significant portion of the broader IoT growth we expect to see in the next five years.

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