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The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) and the Future of Smart Manufacturing

Smart manufacturing has spurred the fourth industrial revolution, driven by a variety of innovative technologies, most significantly the industrial internet of things. The internet of things (IoT) connects devices and allows them to communicate with the cloud as well as each other. Though originally a consumer-driven technology, IoT has now expanded into the manufacturing sector, improving production and operations. Intertwining smart manufacturing with IoT is known as the industrial internet of things (IIoT). IIoT has advanced smart manufacturing and will continue to improve the industry as a whole.

Industrial Internet of Things and Smart Manufacturing IoT

The overlap of smart manufacturing and IoT is central to Industry 4.0. IIoT is a crucial component of smart manufacturing that combines information technology with operational technology, which includes industrial processes and control systems. By using sensors to digitally connect tools, machines and other industrial instruments to computer applications, IIoT streamlines manufacturing operations.

Implementing IIoT gives manufacturers improved visibility and control of their operations. Different technologies are often used in conjunction with IIoT, either embedded into it or as a complement to it. These technologies include automation and robotics, machine learning (ML), big data and artificial intelligence (AI). Combining these advanced manufacturing technologies will lead to connected manufacturing environments in the future, but this tech can also assist with current industry issues.  

Manufacturing Today

Despite the immediate disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the manufacturing industry is growing fast and has no plans to slow down. Even with the labor shortage and continuous supply chain issues, demand has continued to grow. As a result, manufacturers are determined to keep up. But these manufacturing trends are not necessarily brand new.

Though aggravated by the pandemic, a labor shortage has been plaguing the manufacturing sector for years. The older workforce is retiring, and not enough people are entering manufacturing to fill all the necessary jobs. And it’s no secret that the years-long supply chain crisis will continue in 2022.

But IIoT technologies already exist to combat some of these issues. Manufacturers either already have or are in the process of implementing these technologies into manufacturing operations and production processes. Manufacturing companies leading the way in the adoption of IIoT and other advanced technologies are known as “lighthouse” factories.

These factories are proving that smart manufacturing and Industry 4.0 aren’t futuristic ideas, they’re already here. And manufacturers today are exploring how to take advantage of these advanced manufacturing technologies. They're utilizing this tech to improve every aspect of operations, from speed and scale to cost and efficiency.

Having IIoT-connected operations throughout manufacturing facilities and factories provides some workforce relief. Digitally connected manufacturing processes make operations more reliable and efficient, and improve predictions about machine downtime and maintenance.

This helps leadership to better utilize workers, which is especially important when managing a reduced workforce. This is not a permanent solution for the manufacturing labor shortage. However, this interim situation maintains productivity while the industry works to attract and retain new talent.

IIoT technologies can also be implemented throughout supply chains. Smart manufacturing enables digital connections across the entire supply chain. This creates a level of transparency that will improve data-based predictions and strategies within manufacturing plants. Though the industry isn’t there yet, this idea is possible with IIoT's ability to digitally connect machines and industrial instruments.

The Future of IIoT in Manufacturing

Manufacturers are focusing on digitizing operations now more than ever as a result of the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic. Though IIoT is not yet an integral part of the industry, it will be a necessary adaptation — especially for companies to remain competitive within the manufacturing landscape.

IIoT is used today to facilitate connections, gather and analyze data, and improve processes. The continued advancement of smart manufacturing will explore how to continually boost production by combining IIoT with other smart technologies.

Machine learning and artificial intelligence are two such technologies. They have the potential to pair with IIoT to facilitate operational transformation. ML and AI-embedded IIoT solutions can analyze data and react to situations in real time. These technologies enable the smart factory, which will run on smart manufacturing technologies and enhance collaboration between human workers and robots.

IIoT is driving the manufacturing industry to a seamlessly connected future. Everything within manufacturing facilities will work together as one. Device sensors and predictive maintenance are already allowing IIoT technologies to help decrease operational costs and optimize production efficiency. As IIoT continues to advance, it will help prepare the manufacturing industry for the future.

To learn more about industrial IoT and smart manufacturing, attend the Smart Manufacturing Experience.