The Internet of Things (IoT) has made your home smart; you can program your heat, lighting and security system to automatically adjust themselves. You can program your Roomba to vacuum when you’re asleep. You can ask Google or Alexa to play whatever music you like when you come home. So why shouldn’t your workplace be smart as well?
The good news is that the workplace is smarter than it was a few years ago, but maybe not in the way you’d think, if a smart home is your reference point. (Although companies like Amazon and Google are certainly betting on offices becoming just as smart and voice-activated as houses, the ubiquitous smart office is probably a few years down the road.)
Manufacturing, on the other hand, has been putting the IoT to good use since it was introduced a few years ago. Sensors have transformed the industry, making the factory floor one of the smartest workplaces around.
How manufactures use IoT
Back in 2016, when the IoT was new, manufacturing was one of a handful of industries that had made significant investments in the Internet of Things while other industries weren’t quite sure what to do with it. That has continued. According to a recent report from IoT Analytics, manufacturing is projected to be the largest market for IoT platforms by 2021, with an expected value of $438 million.
Manufacturing’s embrace of the IoT has happened for good reason — sensors attached to equipment, like pallets and machines, generate valuable data that help improve operating efficiencies, create safer environments for workers and tell technicians when parts need to be replaced.
This is the case at Appleton-based Miller Electric, the world’s largest manufacturer of arc welding equipment. At Miller Electric, IoT devices are hooked up to welding equipment. Those sensors produce a wealth of information; they allow managers to track human welders’ performance, provide welding information to customers and track machine performance to see when a piece of equipment needs maintenance.
How other Wisconsin companies are using the Internet of Things
A Wisconsin-based naval ship building firm on the other hand has been using the IoT for safety purposes. The company puts chips in the helmets of its personnel. Those chips are read by a scanner as people walk on and off boats so that the company knows exactly where everyone is. If there is a fire on a boat, for example, the company would know immediately exactly who is on it and who is safe ashore.
An insurance company for jewelers based in Neenah, Wisconsin is more focused on using the Internet of Things to prevent theft. In 2016, the company displayed a smart jewelry showcase during the JCK Store of the Future Conference. This smart display case, which was shown at the conference as a concept only, contained sensors that detect patterns in movement, light, weight, temperature, humidity and pressure. If those sensors reach a certain threshold, they send notifications out to staff, owners and authorities.
This data is able to tell jewelers if someone has been lingering nearby — casing the joint, so to speak. Knowing this in advance helps jewelers know when to beef up security, or rotate merchandise in the cases to thwart a potential robbery.
Photo by Donald Trung, shared under a CC BY-SA 4.0 license, via Wikimedia Commons
In all three cases, the IoT helps workplaces become smarter, giving organizations the information they need to improve efficiency, safety and security. Businesses need more than sensors to effectively implement the IoT, however. Sensors collect a lot of data but unless there’s a program in place to help them analyze that information, it will be useless.
What organizations need to get started with IoT
For an organization to take its first steps when it comes to the IoT, they should first consider three things:
- Investing in good AI
- A plan for updates and upgrades
AI: To find patterns in the data and isolate the information most important to them, organizations must invest in good data analytics, sometimes utilizing AI, or artificial intelligence, to make sense of the constant stream of data produced by sensors and present it to stakeholder in an easy-to-understand format. That’s part of what Omni did to help Miller Electric — Omni partnered with Miller Electric to develop a custom cloud-based solution that transmits and analyzes welding data in real-time, allowing manufacturers to monitor productivity and quality standards while the welding is happening.
Security: Organizations also need to give some thought to security because the IoT is technology and therefore it can provide another entry point for hackers if it’s left vulnerable. Any company considering the IoT will have to plan ahead to make sure their sensors are as secure as any laptop.
Upgrades: Lastly, organizations need to have a plan in place for how to update their IoT devices. Like any other software, the code running on the machines will need regular updates, patches and upgrades. If this can’t be done in-house, or it sounds like a lot, that’s okay. Technology consulting companies can help set up a plan.
Technology consultants can also help you design custom software for your IoT. For example, Omni can help by creating an IoT process to fit your needs, connecting your current devices to one database, and displaying that data in a dashboard or a report. Omni’s technicians can also use AI to automate the process, which would allow the system to generating alerts automatically, like the jewelry case, or to run steps that fix a problem. The information from the IoT can also be automatically sent to other systems, software or applications.
With the IoT, your workplace can be as smart as you want it to be. Ready to see how the IoT can change your workplace?