The world of manufacturing is adapting rapidly to the idea of mechanized and automated work for menial labor. At this point we’re still a bit farther from achieving what’s called “lights-off” manufacturing, where machines can perform precise tasks in total darkness, but we’re not quite there yet. The embedded PC has completely revolutionized the state of manufacturing in many industries, and there are factories and plants capable of going fully lights out.
These three examples aren’t utilizing full automation yet, but they are deploying an advanced system that utilizes the Internet of Things to help manage tasks. Soon, our factories will be able to accomplish a great deal on their own, with minimal intervention from humans.
GE is Building a Better Mousetrap
GE stumbled upon an interesting concept when it began to deploy the Internet of Things in its factories. The company wondered whether conditions inside factories could affect production. One concern they had was humidity, another was pressure applied to the product during assembly. Using advanced sensors, the company began collecting data on this. The test is small scale currently but the idea is to improve GE’s ability to build better products by highlighting key areas of improvement, areas no one had thought to look at before, and making corrections to help improve those conditions.
With just a few small corrections, like adjusting the humidity on the factory floor, GE’s factories will cost less and spend less on materials they discard. It may also improve the rate of defective products, which could save unknown costs on legal fees.
Intel Predicts Output
Intel is deploying the Internet of Things to try and make their real-time decisions more effective. They believed that with more data, they could accurately assess the conditions on the factory floor as well as predicting what conditions might be like the next day. They deployed sensors around the floor to observe working conditions.
Intel is far more responsive today than it was before. It can tell when there is a problem, what the problem is and direct personnel to work around that issue. The consumer pays less, and the company makes a greater profit as costs go down. The system is not fully automated, but automation has completely revolutionized the concept of building processors, such that we can build at a microscopic level.
According to Cisco, Sugar Creek is pioneering usage of the Internet of Things to assist in producing food. Using the IoT, the factory can better assess health conditions. That improves working conditions for workers, cuts down on waste and significantly decreases risks to consumer health. That’s in addition to the benefits other companies have already found in improving productivity and efficiency.
This intelligent process of manufacturing does come at a price, but the costs to upgrade may dwarf potential liabilities. If Sugar Creek doesn’t make these improvements, and a food-borne illness is released, did they really save money in the long run?
A growing percentage of manufacturers are considering automation, but not merely for the cost savings. The level of specificity that automation affords is not something human hands are capable of. Using embedded sensors also gives data humans can’t make note of. It’s not simply replacing workers on the line, automation will change how products are made. Automation will change how we make decisions moving forward, and manufacturers are beginning to see the critical nature of arming themselves with top notch technology.
It’s true that consumers will have to bear some of the costs for these upgrades, but there is some question as to how long. If conditions improve, costs to produce will drop. The market dictates that the lower priced goods help set the bar for value, so it will be interesting to see how companies balance profit margins with consumer interest. For now, businesses (and investors) should consider manufacturing to be a lot more tech savvy than previously believed.