Step by step: The progressive role of IoT in manufacturing

Internet of Things (IoT) solutions are changing all kinds of industries and working practices, making things possible today that not so long ago seemed impossible. In the manufacturing sector, we are seeing a continuous transformation, as good, common sense ideas leverage digital technology to become smart solutions that improve companies’ ways of working and overall efficiency.

In today’s world, manufacturers of every shape and size are all changing rapidly because of new digital technologies. And they have no choice but to change, because their competitors are changing, the traditional ecosystems they are used to are changing, and the ways manufacturers work and do business have changed beyond recognition.

So the business world has changed, manufacturing has changed as an industry and IoT solutions are making their mark in all kinds of ways: from connected manufacturing plants helping companies reduce costs and be more productive through to proactive and predictive maintenance helping reduce production line downtime and improving efficiency. But IoT isn’t only about the big things. Sometimes the simplest and smallest innovations can have big impacts.

A good idea is a good idea no matter how small

Problems in manufacturing environments can be as basic as tools going missing, so IoT solutions for the factory floor that track tools and parts can be invaluable and save companies small fortunes. Here in Russia, the national health and safety laws hold company CEOs liable for lost assets in manufacturing environments and also for certain industrial accidents. For example, if a worker walks into a forklift in a manufacturing facility and gets hurt, the worker could in theory sue the company. However, if the worker is wearing an IoT wearable device that has warned him to not enter that area, but he goes anyway, then the worker is at fault. Little innovations like this make manufacturing environments safer places and also help save money.

There’s a security element on top of the safety factor, too. IoT devices can be used to monitor and track manufacturing site visitors and ensure they don’t go to areas they are not supposed to or that they can’t turn on machinery if they are not qualified or permitted to do so.

Use cases for IoT now abound in manufacturing, and it is an industry that seems the perfect match for IoT tech: vehicle and asset tracking, connected factory applications, worker safety, health monitoring, smart ventilation and air quality management in the factory, access control, facility management – they can all bring benefits to a manufacturing facility. And that’s before you get into big ticket IoT use cases like automation and smart robotics.

Orange has worked with many customers to enhance their manufacturing operations using IoT. One world-leading consumer brand wanted to improve health and safety in manufacturing sites, so Orange worked with them to deliver precision positioning of objects around facilities, employee location monitoring, vehicle monitoring to eliminate collisions, wearable IoT tech in personal protective equipment (PPE) and more, all controlled from a central web portal.

Orange worked with another global company in the extraction industry to implement smart tracking solutions. Tags track and transmit the locations of assets and individuals; the connectivity is provided by Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), LoRaTM, ultra-wideband (UWB) or GSM technology, or a mix of them. The customer is able to monitor every asset and object from a central portal in real time, easily locate assets and people on custom indoor maps, track inventory and, using geofencing, get notifications when assets leave a designated area. IoT solutions like this are helping companies keep track of assets on manufacturing sites like never before.

Think simple and think practical

Digital transformation of a manufacturing environment using IoT need not be complicated or daunting: it can be as simple as turning traditional machinery and workers into IoT-connected machinery and workers, using sensors and wearables and data analytics. It also does not need to be rushed, it can be a step by step, continuous process that delivers ongoing improvements. Don’t try to overhaul your manufacturing plant from top to bottom overnight, but focus on things that make a difference to your business bit by bit.

To help companies keep on top of their IoT applications, Orange developed our globally available platform, Live Objects, a secure solution that provides the core functionalities needed for an IoT project, manages connected devices and gathers and analyzes the data they generate. Live Objects lets you quickly integrate new devices into a manufacturing facility and to start using the data they collect. So all these simple, common sense use cases that leverage IoT are fundamentally good ideas – but a platform like Live Objects lets you bring it all together and manage your site better.

I’m often asked about connectivity for manufacturing sites in IoT, and the truth is that there is no one-size-fits-all answer: the connectivity you need is down to what your application is and needs. If your factory is in a big city, you might want 5G connectivity. If you are in a regional location, then LoRa Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) might be better for your needs. Or if you are out in very rural Russia for example, then you might want a combination of satellite and LoRa or BLE. Orange has expertise in all these types of connectivity, and in our experience, your choice of connectivity tends to be mostly about the type of application you are connecting and where you are geographically.

Step by step route to business benefits

What is clear to me is that manufacturers who can carry out fast adoption of digital capabilities will be those that create business value from it more quickly and will be the leaders of their industry. And initiatives that can be deployed fast are the simple, common sense IoT use cases that improve your company.

IoT is really just getting started in manufacturing: it is here to stay and forecasts expect it to grow quickly. McKinsey estimates that IoT applications in manufacturing are expected to generate up to $3.7 trillion of economic value annually by 2025, while IDC research predicts that also by 2025, the improvements in operations driven by IoT applications could be worth more than $470 billion per year. Business Insider predicts that global manufacturers will invest $70 billion in IoT solutions in 2020, up from $29 billion in 2015. The possibilities are huge.

Read more about how Orange Business Russia can help manufacturing companies transform their operations using IoT.

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David Holden
David Holden

David Holden is Chief Commercial Officer for Orange Business Russia. He has a wealth of experience in the technology industry, with particular focus on telecoms. Today David’s role encompasses the Internet of Things, digital transformation across multiple verticals and many other areas of digital technology. He enjoys traveling and the multinational and multicultural nature of his job.