How the Internet of Things is expected to influence the engineering & manufacturing industries
Joseph Zulick is a writer, editor, and manager at MRO Electric and Supply.
The Internet of Things is creating a 3D map of your workspace, and it knows you have been taking too many coffee breaks. Every 15 minutes?? Seriously, stop. In this connected map, devices, machines and business processes are linked. With the potential of sensors embedded in new and legacy production equipment, connected by IP to deliver actionable indicators to decision makers is the heart of the fourth industrial revolution—from the invention of the steam engine to machines now being able to replenish their own parts by signaling—engineers and designers today are challenged with a new task: how to perceive value and communicate the benefits of tech adoption for consumers and companies alike.
From legacy equipment to end users easily navigating seas of fluctuating data, we want them to be able to steer the ship just as you are excited about the potential energy gained by implementation. Leading the way to more and better efficiencies for a sustainable planet is the goal, and your ideas are the cherries on top.
The old systems of service delivery and creation are slowly being phased out, and a major disruption felt with this wave of IIoT is in the way managing production, fulfillment, and maintenance are transitioning to becoming background tasks of the machines themselves; tasks that managers used to spend time calculating, analyzing and inspecting can now be integrated to make free time available for other tasks. Industry 4.0 is installing a new paradigm; one in which ‘process2device’ is an ethos applied to people to shift the workload to the devices themselves—with sensors, actuators, and tools like apps available to auto-supervise internal plus external processes ultimately delivering data in useful formats to read and tweak. Help the machines do the work so you can steer us towards mutual success scenarios where we all win.
Coders writing scripts to trigger corrective actions, so that machines avoid damages, replenish their parts, and someday even design their own content upgrades are equally integral in getting there. Each piece is important, and performs best in optimal conditions. For now, don’t worry, you still have a role in this wave, and there is a long way to go before Skynet arrives… we’ll be back. As for today, lean inventory and the managers of logistic plans, the distribution of production is extending naturally outwards from the single machine to the various plants, zones, regions, and now even to whole continents through fulfillment technologies. For the forward-thinking designer, manager and engineer on the brink of collapse and innovation, the question is: how to create architectures and interfaces that are stable enough and user-friendly to keep everything moving towards healthy transitions?
When algorithms run the majority of background work processes, time becomes available to focus on actionable steps and big picture brainstorming. Focus on relationships, new ideas, and having fun while participating in the health of your local ecosystem; your work group, your family, neighborhood, friends, animals… everybody—sell the benefits of that ‘found time’ to instead build better networks and improve operating costs with eco-advantages. Yet, let’s first rewind: speaking from the present, how can we get there?
The promises of AI are on the horizon, and apart from mere upgrades, there exists a need for engineers and designers to deliver dashboard information for company ‘drivers’ and to make it sexy enough to really use it—you are the chauffeur contemplating the algorithms and applications to link millions of data points into chewable information that you can eat with a spoon, ensuring that everything is synchronized and performs stably across the whole value chain. Can you do it? Of course you can, if not you, then who else will? You are pretty unique and special for the time being.
With higher degrees of automation, data is being leveraged across the entire board to improve efficiencies for things like renting a car to making warehouse-sized machines easier to maintain for everybody. Companies today are able to heighten the visibility of components and processes thanks to tools that help us boost quality and optimize time for making the best decisions effectively, and instantly. On the other side of design, the greatest challenge today is helping people see the potential for IoT and value creation in the old ways of doing things. When we apply what's actually ‘new’ about new technologies, value creation (cost reduction) can be achieved in a way which can be understood to be beneficial.
Strategically, sometimes this means installing a few sensors as a test demonstration of monetary worth. Don’t just tell me about the benefits, show me them! Take a month long trial run and show me the savings. Put the instruments in my hands and empower me with knowledge. Help me see the goodness, and make implementation turn-key and easy enough so people can interact with data in fluid ways; adjusting to conditions, responding to problems, and letting out the sails of the machines to help make strategic decisions in direct, intuitive style. When the winds shift, how soon will you be ready to respond? More importantly, how will you help your customers and make their lives easier? The future of IoT is now in your hands. How will you design the innovations to transform the world around you?