Manufacturing Insights — Part 1: The Impact of the Internet of Things

This is the first of our three-part series on the future of manufacturing. Check out Part 2: Checklist for Successful ERP Projects, and Part 3: Getting Data Right.

The Internet of Things, as you likely already know, is the idea of implanting Internet devices in everyday electronics, like your appliances—it’s having your fridge let you know when it’s time to buy more milk, or even better, ordering it for you.

Lately we hear a lot of talk about the impact of the Internet of Things on manufacturing. We’re seeing buzzwords like the Industrial Internet, Industry 4.0, and smart factories. So what’s really going on?

IT companies like to baffle the market with buzzwords. So it’s important to remember that the ideas are straightforward. In simple terms, the Internet of Things in manufacturing is all about technology on the production line—incorporating sensors and controllers to make production more visible, more efficient, and more controllable in real-time. It means that your staff can deal with customer requirements more accurately: managing stock, orders, and production to minimize costs, while maximizing output and quality.

In manufacturing, the Internet of Things will also help with reporting. Some companies use manually created reports, from weeks- or months-old data, for planning. The Internet of Things integrates devices into enterprise resource planning (ERP) systems to provide up-to-the-minute information accurately, with minimal manual intervention.

Of course, it’s not a huge step from there to automating some aspects of decision-making. This can be anything from a structure of simple rules to sophisticated machine learning and Artificial Intelligence.

For manufacturing businesses, the Internet of Things will impact on customers as well. Your customers will increasingly expect to follow the progress of their own orders through your factory. And with the Internet of Things, integration of production activities with customers, suppliers, and partners becomes possible at a far more detailed level.

For the manufacturer, though, perhaps the greatest opportunities will be monitor and communicate with your products after they’ve been shipped. You’ll get information about your products when they are in use, enabling new ways to offer maintenance and support, and new avenues for value-added services.

Looking further into the future, we believe that the more revolutionary changes in manufacturing will come via 3D printing. Rapid prototyping and iteration are already becoming the norm, but the real revolutions will be in mass customization. Endless product versions and variations will become commonplace.

3D printing will also massively reduce the need for stock-holding, especially for spares, which will free up cash. This may have a transformative effect on smaller companies and their ability to invest in new trends. We believe that ambitious mid-sized businesses will find huge opportunities in this change.

Finally, it’s worth noting that according to some experts, these trends towards local manufacturing will reverse decades (or centuries) of growth in global trade of manufactured goods. A recent ING report estimated a reduction in world trade by as much as forty percent by 2040! This will affect a wide range of industries from shipping to insurance, and may have very broad-ranging geopolitical ramifications as well.

Well, it won’t be the first time that manufacturing has changed the world. But before that happens, read on to find out how the Internet of Things can transform your business now.

Read the rest of our special series on the future of manufacturing:

Manufacturing – Part 2: Checklist for Successful ERP Projects

Manufacturing – Part 3: Getting Data Right.