By Kevin Jones, Owner/Founder, Ectobox, Inc

Most everyone has now heard the terminology ‘Internet of Things’ (IoT). Simply put, it refers to data pulled securely in real time from devices or machines (“things”) and then transmitted over the Internet, transformed into valuable information, and applied to business decisions. It’s important to consider IoT for the future growth of your business. Let’s breakdown the value creation of IoT into 4 categories.

Maintain equipment better

One of the easiest ways to get value from IoT is around maintenance and support of products. If a company improves their maintenance of a product they are then able to get a longer life out of the piece of equipment, and can prevent unplanned downtime. For example, two leading causes of machine breakdown may be lack of lubrication in some parts and overuse which causes overheating. Typically, reactive or preventative maintenance is performed. Companies will react and maintain the product when they hear, see, or otherwise experience an issue with the equipment. Or they may perform maintenance on the product every so many hours of usage, or every month or so. Reactive maintenance is usually too late and those issues, including unplanned downtime, could have been prevented. Additionally, preventative maintenance could be performed too frequently. Each of these maintenance methods can be costly.

If we were to add sensors to the machine and pull the data, we could remotely monitor the machine’s operation. Better yet, we could add some predictive analytics to the solution. This then alleviates the need for the human to watch the data, and we can setup alerts to indicate that the machine will need maintenance at some point soon before a breakdown, and automatically generate a work order in the CMMS (i.e., work order management system) with appropriate data about the data. We can then schedule the machine for some planned downtime during a slow shift. This can significantly reduce the costs of maintenance and repairs, and prevent expensive unplanned downtime of the production line.

Operate equipment better

Costs for operating equipment can be reduced with IoT by providing better data and then acting on that data. This data can then be used to improve operating uptime of the equipment and to operate the equipment autonomously. Uptime is improved by having data which allows a user to operate the equipment within engineering limits, which maximizes its use in production. Costs can be further reduced by running the equipment autonomously. Data from the equipment as well as other data from manufacturing process can be computerized to perform repetitive tasks and workflows. This allows people to perform higher value tasks, and monitor the production of more equipment at the same time.

Make existing products better

It’s possible to get value from IoT by making products better, i.e., innovating on your existing products. The idea here is to obtain and understand data about the product, the environment in which it’s used, how it’s used, and the customer’s business. Once you have that data you can understand how the product is used and improve how the customer uses it through better training, or more data for the customer to consume. It would also be possible to improve the product itself by eliminating bugs in the equipment or incrementally improving features in the product. Imagine a piece of equipment you currently manufacture and sell to a customer. Once they have it installed, do you really know how they’re using it? It would be valuable to receive a continuous feed of data about how the product is used which may indicate a need for changes- changes that would make the product more interesting and valuable to prospective customers and more competitive in the market.

Make new products better

Let’s take the idea of making products better and extend that even further, i.e. invention. If you had the data available to you, enabled by IoT, for how your customers are using the products and if you analyzed the data and product’s use, it’s possible you could add new features or develop a completely new product for the existing or a new market. This is taking the process of improving products to a new level. This drives even greater opportunities for increasing sales and thereby increasing revenue from the new products.

All four of these methods are very interesting ways that adding IoT capabilities to products can create value for a company, some helping your company save money and others helping you increase revenue. All good reasons to take a look at your current capabilities, create a roadmap of where you would like to go, and determine if and how IoT capabilities might help you get there.

Ectobox, Inc. is a company of IoT and software experts that provide consulting, services, and product solutions that improve manufacturing clients’ competitive position.