Manufacturing and Internet of Things: Looking ahead in 2015

The International Data Corporation (IDC) has forecast that 2015 will be the year when the Internet of Things (IoT) really starts to meet and exceed expectations across the globe.

Manufacturers in particular can expect this trend to disrupt business and production, creating opportunities for efficiency and increasing competitiveness.

"Companies are always looking for ways to drive business transformation, deliver competitive differentiation and enhance the customer experience, and many are now realising that the Internet of Things can help them deliver against these goals," IDC Asia-Pacific Head of Mobility and IoT Charles Reed Anderson explained.

While 2014 saw the release of many new IoT-related technologies and solutions, this should be the year businesses really take notice and apply these practices to their processes. In fact, IDC predicted 30 billion 'things' will be connected to the internet within the next five years, contributing to global revenue of US$8.9 trillion by 2020.

Considering that as of 2009 there were less than 1 billion connected devices, it seems clear that IoT will experience an exponential rise in popularity over the coming years.

Who will be affected?

Many industries are primed to benefit from the IoT explosion, including manufacturers in almost every sector.

IoT enables manufacturers to build on their existing systems to boost productivity, improve efficiency and reduce costs. By utilising predictive maintenance and real-time asset management, manufacturing companies can benefit from increased business agility and the ability to collaborate innovation internally and externally.

Industrial businesses have been among the first to introduce the IoT into their processes, with 18 per cent of industrial machinery manufacturers already using connected devices, according to a recent survey from SAS. This sector is followed by automotive businesses, consumer and industrial electronics, and telecommunications, each at 17 per cent.

Aerospace and defence has also been quick to adopt IoT processes, with 15 per cent of companies in this sector making the most of the technology.

And it's not just manufacturing taking note of this trend. The transportation, warehousing and information sectors will also be top investors over the coming years. However, manufacturers are clearly leading the charge in IoT adoption.  

In particular, manufacturers in the Asia-Pacific region need to embrace IoT technology sooner rather than later in order to remain competitive. APAC nations are likely to be home to the biggest leaps in this industry over the next 12 months.

This is due in part to the sheer size of consumer demand, with electronic manufacturing taking a significant percentage of the weight. 

How is manufacturing changing?

​The IoT is changing manufacturing as we know it. More factories and plants than ever before are connected to the internet to improve efficiency, production and agility. In a marketplace that is becoming increasingly competitive across the globe, it seems that companies need to be connected or be left behind.

Common uses for IoT technology are present all throughout the manufacturing supply chain. For those working on the production line, wireless sensors are changing the way companies perform repairs, maintenance and reviews.

Sensors installed on the assembly line can send direct notifications to the relevant worker when repairs are needed or if production is altered in some way. A manager can then read and share this information instantly. 

Billions of wireless devices and sensors are already in use to make manufacturing fast, safer and more efficient. Sensors can diagnose what's wrong with machinery and report it to the manufacturer, who then dispatches a repairman with the necessary part.

Over the past few decades, academics and researchers have started connecting more and more things, like household items and cars, to the Internet. This gives manufacturers the ability to monitor their products not only during development but also once they are in the hands of the end user.

Another industry seeing serious benefits from IoT adoption is healthcare, particularly through wearable tech. These devices, such as heart-rate monitors, glucometers and scales, can all be connected ​through the internet and used to transmit data to healthcare professionals.

This demonstrates the enormous potential of the IoT not only for businesses, but also for the human race.

Where to next?

A Chief Information Officer roundtable event was held in Melbourne in December, where IT experts gathered to discuss the future of the IoT in Australia. 

Around one-third of IT leaders believe the IoT will provide better insights to drive operational efficiencies inside their organisations. Similar numbers say it will enhance customer service, cut costs, and improve processes.

While the trend is expected to explode in product design and other manufacturing departments, there are some challenges to be addressed before industry-wide adoption can occur.

The primary barriers to installing the IoT within businesses include the high costs for installation and increasing vulnerability to a cyber-attack.

However, establishing an IoT in a manufacturing facility doesn't have to be difficult and the advantages are enormous. Cutting costs and resource use can bring about unprecedented change and efficiencies.

Designing or manufacturing in the electronics industry? Contact us at SOLIDWORKS to see how we can help inspire engineering innovation and improve every aspect of your product development.