Be prepared for IoT technology

Posted on 14 Sep 2023 by The Manufacturer

Sindu Manickam, Senior Industrial IoT Technologist, Digital Catapult, explains that the manufacturing sector must prepare for the revolutionary impact of IoT technology.

At Digital Catapult, we’re helping businesses of all sizes, and manufacturers across the country, embrace emerging technology to drive industry growth and develop scalable solutions. Our work builds on advanced digital infrastructure to create virtual and cyber-physical environments that enhance design, prototyping and real-time production.

These digital supply chains enable greater interoperability between businesses and sectors. A key technology driving this transformation is the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT is having a transformative impact on the manufacturing industry more broadly, and UK manufacturers must adopt this technology if they are to maintain their competitive edge. British manufacturers are increasingly facing pressure to rapidly adapt and respond to market and environmental demands. Optimising the production process and shop floor operations have long been the priority in the digital transformation journey, but greater transformation is required for UK manufacturers.

This is where emerging technologies like IoT play a vital role. IoT enables a connected and collaborative ecosystem with man, machine, material and process (MMMP). By embracing IoT and other advanced technologies through our core application areas, we can help manufacturers drive the industry growth and innovation needed to thrive.

The impact of IoT and its manufacturing applications

IoT refers to the growing network of connected physical objects embedded with sensors, software and other technologies used to collect and exchange data. IoT takes an integrated approach to driving end-to-end digital transformation across an organisation, and enables broad execution of digital initiatives on the factory floor. This includes shopfloor production planning, supply chain and logistics, lean operations, customer management and connecting remote workers in different locations. The technology’s benefits go beyond the factory floor however, facilitating training and development, while contributing to the UK government’s levelling up agenda.

In fact, IoT can be thought of as a human-centric approach to manufacturing. The connected and collaborative ecosystem enabled by IoT is revolutionising how core business objectives and KPIs of manufacturing are achieved. For example, manufacturing and production data is a critical and arguably invaluable asset for monitoring and improving key performance indicators (KPIs) such as cycle time, quality performance (parts per million – PPM) and overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). By providing real-time data capture and insights, IoT allows manufacturers to closely monitor KPIs across the production process, through cyber-physical environments like digital twins and immersive control.

This increased visibility facilitates data-driven improvements in efficiency, quality control and asset utilisation. At Digital Catapult, we apply our IoT expertise across the technology stack to a broad spectrum of industrial and manufacturing settings, from data collections to decision making and insights. This aligns with our application area around establishing effective digital infrastructure, given that IoT relies on robust architecture that includes sensors, connectivity, platforms and networks. Such environments facilitate automated systems, legacy assets and paper based processes to effectively build and implement the digital infrastructure necessary to benefit UK factories operationally in the long-term, and maintain global competitiveness.

How IoT is revolutionising factory floor operations

Automated factory floors often implement IoT technologies through robotics and automation, manufacturing execution and warehouse management systems. Each system offers unique benefits, such as smart sensors connecting to digital infrastructure to bolster factory performance. However, when these systems exist in isolation, along with manual intervention and lack of IT or OT convergence, it leads to data silos and an inability to generate data-driven decisions across the enterprise and the manufacturing value chain.

To fully realise the promise of digital transformation, manufacturers need to take an integrated approach to implementing connected, collaborative factories through Industrial IoT (IIoT). Following IIoT best practice enables seamless OT and IT integration into manufacturers’ existing operations and processes. This leads to greater visibility into manufacturing processes on the factory floor and across value chains as IoT breaks down data and communication silos across the entire value chain in manufacturing, leading to more flexible and efficient manufacturing. Connected, data-driven factories will therefore be key for UK manufacturers to remain competitive globally.

IoT unlocks the true digital potential of a manufacturing business by connecting various value chains, and providing end-to-end visibility of the manufacturing chain, right from market demand to post-sales and services. IoT is thus a key technology that will play a vital role in broader deployment of digital supply chains for UK businesses too. This end-to-end integration through IoT helps to optimise manufacturing based on business and market requirements, fuelling sustainable business growth.

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A promising perspective for digital manufacturing

Moreover, the advancement and embrace of IoT technology among manufacturers is enabling value capture at scale. For example, the consistent drop of sensorisation and data storage costs, connectivity infrastructure and open and interoperable digital infrastructure are helping industries to rapidly adopt IoT technology, and effectively implement connected and collaborative factory floors.

Through IoT enabled digital transformation projects, manufacturers can benefit from digitised operations, informed and automated factory operations in contrast to inefficient analogue or paper based production monitoring. With this, manufacturers can ultimately achieve numerous business values such as better productivity, agility, sustainability and better health and safety practices. IoT aids manufacturers with implementing ‘adaptive and flexible manufacturing systems (FMS)’ leveraging multiple systems integration, human to machine (H2M), machine to machine (M2M) interactions, collaborative and autonomous systems including collaborative robots.

This is what we are working to achieve on the Smart Nano Northern Ireland programme, which will look to leverage IIoT for accurate energy and machine condition monitoring, asset tracking, the realisation of digital twins, optimisation of the factory floor, enhanced supply chain efficiency and product servitisation. It’s clear that IoT will play a key role in aiding UK manufacturers as they increasingly implement ‘adaptive and flexible manufacturing systems’, which will improve overall performance and output.

Optimising production and scaling from pilots

IoT further helps business owners to mitigate the risks presented by the diverse and fragmented digitalisation landscape, when an industry transitions from electrification and automation to digitalisation. IoT also plays a crucial role in helping business owners in navigating the risks presented by the diverse and fragmented digitalisation landscape. As industries transition from traditional electrification and automation to a more digital-driven approach, IoT becomes increasingly important. By capitalising on the progress made from digital platforms and infrastructure, IoT facilitates the scaling up of proof of concepts (PoCs) through dependable and scalable architectures.

This in turn leads to significant time and resource savings for the industry’s digitalisation initiatives. As more manufacturers look to emerging technologies like digital twins and AI, IoT provides the critical digital infrastructure to scale pilots to successful large scale projects, which is what we are working on at Digital Catapult. Having the right digital infrastructure in place is vital to successful scaling and deployment of new solutions, and this is key to enabling manufacturers to comply with IoT best practices. With these in place, manufacturers can implement scalable architectures to efficiently connect the assets, people and process across the business.

Modern digital transformation in industries is steering towards cyber-physical systems, and IoT serves as a vital bridge between the physical and cyber realms by seamlessly collecting and analysing digital data from the real world, and transferring valuable insights and information to digital (cyber) space. The relationship between physical systems and cyber systems requires complex infrastructure management, and this is where IoT plays a pivotal role as the enabler of this seamless interaction. IoT is the foundation for Industry 4.0 which is where manufacturers can realise the full promise of digital transformation.

The sustainable benefits of IoT technology

Digital Catapult is committed to supporting businesses that want to leverage emerging technology as a means of reaching net zero and meeting their environmental objectives. We at Digital Catapult, have delivered real-word use cases for the manufacturing industry using IoT, impacting value chains such as sustainability and enacting greener business practices. As it stands, IoT provides manufacturers with much greater visibility into energy usage, material flows and emissions across factory operations.

This data visibility enables manufacturers to identify optimisation opportunities that reduce environmental impact. For example, sensors can detect compressed air leaks, trigger lighting based on occupancy, and track real-time energy consumption to minimise waste. IoT also enables predictive maintenance to extend equipment lifetime and reduce material usage.

On the supply chain side, IoT tracking provides visibility into sourcing, logistics carbon emissions and material origins, which allows manufacturers to identify more sustainable vendors, optimise logistics for lower emissions and verify responsible material sourcing. Digital supply chains rely on data to improve the agility and resilience of a supply chain and make them more transparent to key stakeholders.

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As such, IoT-enabled transparency and traceability support ethical and eco-friendly supply chain practices, which is what we are committed to achieving on Digital Catapult’s Digital Supply Chain Hub programme. This is another key reason why UK manufacturers should be adopting IoT technology on the factory floor if they are to ensure long-term success and lead the way in terms of sustainable innovation and efficiency.

With real-time environmental insights across the product lifecycle, manufacturers can set data-driven sustainability goals and continuously improve. At Digital Catapult, we have also demonstrated to businesses the value of cyber-physical environments to model greener designs and processes virtually, before they are physically implemented, saving cost and energy.

UK manufacturers adopting IoT as part of their Industry 4.0 strategy will be well positioned to reduce carbon footprints, optimise energy efficiency, enact circular economy principles and prove sustainability credentials. IoT unlocks environmental performance data that allows manufacturers to turn green objectives into measurable realities. Ultimately, manufacturers leveraging IoT can lead the charge on driving sustainable practices across the sector.

Industries often face difficulties in choosing the right technology strategy and partners during their digital transformation journey. This is why organisations like Digital Catapult play a vital role in steering digital transformation in business, organisation and technology dimensions, demonstrating to manufacturers the value of IoT technologies on the factory floor. By embracing and adopting such technology, the UK manufacturing landscape will be well positioned to lead the way and attract further inward investment.

For any business interested in finding out how they might benefit from leveraging IoT technology for their manufacturing operations visit:

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