The Internet of Things, which has captured the attention of investors and futurist alike as it continues to reshape our markets and everyday lives, is now generating buzz around a new topic: manufacturing. Business and tech analyst are increasingly coming to realize the boon that the IoT can offer to U.S. manufacturing, a fact the wealthiest companies and savviest innovators are already exploiting.
So how exactly can the IoT drive a productivity revolution in U.S. manufacturing? Is it grand conjecture that’s driving this growing consensus that the IoT will reshape manufacturing, or does this idea have a serious basis of reality? A brief review of the IoT’s impact on U.S. productivity shows just how significantly it can optimize American manufacturing, and how little time we have until all of our production is seamlessly integrated with our internet.
Putting manufacturing data to work
Like all IoT-related endeavors, the effort to integrate U.S. manufacturing with the ongoing explosion in internet-connected devices eventually comes down to putting valuable data to work. By collecting, analyzing, and using data generated by complex manufacturing processes, American companies are cutting cost drastically while simultaneously boosting their output. Much in the same way that steam and electricity empowered companies to create entire industries which were previously unheard of, today’s internet and the enormous amount of data it creates are offering companies new business and investment opportunities to exploit.
IBM’s report exploring IoT in manufacturing shows how companies are taking these opportunities and translating them into business success. An IoT-friendly manufacturing process allows companies to better schedule maintenance, particularly for complex operations that are hugely costly to shut down for even the briefest periods. Floor managers can also monitor factory assets with greater ease than ever before, and the modern level of connectivity in manufacturing operations has also helped cut down the number of mistakes made and time needed before detecting them.
The IoT’s ability to outfit each part of an assembly line with sensors that collect and send out data is where much of the manufacturing-related change stems from. When individual components break down, they can be located instantly based on the data they send out, and replace with ease. Retooling manufacturing centers is also much easier thanks to the IoT, meaning businesses are much more flexible in what they can produce. As today’s factories find themselves lined with greater amounts of sensors, it’s not unrealistic to say that manufacturers are operating in a smart environment which is regularly attuning itself to be as efficient as possible. Modern “smart manufacturing,” or having intelligent equipment which tells you when it breaks down or how to most efficiently use it, isn’t the only way the IoT is revolutionizing U.S. manufacturing, however.
A new way to produce
Modern marvels like 3D printing, which is already being used to churn out products ranging from shoes to vehicles, are also only possible through the IoT. Still, 3D printing is only one of many manufacturing processes which can make use of the data generated and given value by the IoT. Specific components needed for assembly lines can now be summoned from the other side of the globe, with automated processes ensuring all the parts in the plant are up to date without human oversight.
The IoT isn’t only empowering manufacturers to revolutionize how they use collaboration software and machines, however. The data companies are using from the IoT is also helping them develop and maintain their human capital, too. Improved worker safety and better workforce management achieved via more-connected managers who are more in-tune with the factory’s needs thanks to real-time data analysis can also be achieved by firms willing to embrace the IoT-driven manufacturing process.
Companies which use data collecting from their devices and others in the industry enjoy significantly smoother supply chains, and generally reap in huge savings accrued by data-driven innovations. It’s not only the robots that are empowering manufacturers, however. In order to properly manufacturer in the 21st century, however, these firms need the best and brightest human employees available, too.
The IoT’s upending of American manufacturing has had an impact on more than just productivity; factory workers of old, who once crowded assembly lines in droves, have largely been replaced over time by automated machines. The few humans left over now require more training and expertise than ever before, meaning today’s manufacturers consider their employees to be much more valuable than before.
Data is useless without powerful analytical capabilities that can put it to work. To profit off the IoT, manufacturers are embracing both the highly-technical machines of the 21st century and the highly-educated workers needed to operate them. As long as this process continues, the United States will continue to see boost to its productivity, all at a fraction of cost once paid by manufacturers.
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