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The Industrial
Internet of Things
(IIoT) and
production floor

Author: Mark Stone

Manufacturing today goes beyond the physical construction of goods. Mechanics is the crux of production, of course, but the ability to collect and analyze manufacturing data is now critical to a company's success. Harnessed properly, insights from the data from your production floor communication systems can promote improved monitoring and control of costs associated with manufacturing.

With so many machines connected to the internet through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), data points are everywhere. What's more, IIoT technologies can push data to the cloud and be monitored from anywhere users have a mobile device. Industrial Internet of Things means leveraging predictive maintenance so that less time is spent managing equipment, which allows companies to focus on innovation and expanded offerings.

But with so many devices capable of producing data, they all compete for bandwidth on the network, helping to create latency, prioritization and quality of service issues. Improved efficiency of machine applications enabled by network infrastructure leads to better, more readily available data that your team can understand and act upon

Despite all the progress on the machine front, people continue to play a critical role. Production floor communication between humans and machines is complicated by the proliferation of connections between devices, people and machines (or "things").

A clear strategy for collecting and analyzing your manufacturing data can help you maximize your information to yield the best results from all your assets—both human and machine—on the factory floor.

Manufacturing data collection and analysis: building a strategy

Smooth production relies on a unified strategy of application efficiency, seamless human-machine interaction and clear communication through shift handovers. The more information you have from your machines and the humans who use them, the better equipped you are to make the right decisions for your business.

To manage your information so that it is useful, your organization needs to not only have a plan for how to collect your data but also know what you want the data to tell you. The data you collect will be much different if your goal, for instance, is to reduce downtime versus increase productivity level.

A data strategy keeps your business on course. It provides invaluable insights that can help improve operational efficiency, increase productivity, reduce costs, eliminate waste, enhance the customer experience and optimize communications on the factory floor.

Production floor communication

Production floor communication in the manufacturing industry can rely on some common IIoT devices that transmit important data within the factory include sensors, actuators, radio-frequency identification (RFID) tags, beacons and receivers. These devices can enable factories to create more products at a faster pace while providing safer work environments.

However, with progress comes obstacles in the interaction between users and devices. Managing the challenges that can occur between machine-to-machine, human-to-machine and person-to-person communications is crucial.

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and machine-to-machine communication

Machine-to-machine (M2M) communication is the basis of what we experience in modern device connectivity: when a technology device exchanges information with another technology device. Production floor communication can be enhanced through artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML), which have the capability to make autonomous choices.

M2M technology examples include telemetry (remote monitoring of a machine’s status) via the Internet or wireless technology. M2M can help minimize equipment maintenance, proactively monitor machine health and ultimately provide a better customer service experience. It can also track and regulate inventory in the factory and in warehouses to ensure ample supply is always maintained.

In the Industrial Internet of Things, M2M communication can help achieve near-zero downtime performance of machines and systems. Engineers can maintain and fix any issues in real time and can even be altered to potential issues for preventative maintenance. When production can continue without mechanical failure, the impact on the bottom line can be significant.

Human-machine interface (HMI) communication

People require an interface to communicate with machines directly. That link between user and equipment is the human-machine interface (HMI). Examples of commonly used HMI tools in manufacturing include keyboards, digital touchscreens, electronic displays and audio/visual technologies.

In IIoT, HMI technology can improve diagnostics by monitoring changing production demands through AI and ML. Further, HMI provides insight into the machine itself for more efficient maintenance, resulting in fewer interruptions and significant cost savings for manufacturing companies.

Person-to-person (P2P) communication

Person-to-person (P2P) communication is an interchange directly from one person to another person. Establishing communication channels between employees and providing the right tools and technologies can help facilitate efficiencies in P2P communication. Deploying P2P tools should be a company-wide initiative involving employee training in order to ensure adoption.

Leading manufacturing companies have used the following tools for effective P2P communication:

  • Unified communications as a service (UCaaS) to drive better collaboration between employees and help the company achieve its business outcomes.
  • Mobile phones to enable real-time communication between humans when machines require intervention. Mobile phones help bridge the divide between information technology (IT) and operational technology (OT) by keeping all on the same side.
  • Land mobile radios are a safe, reliable two-way connection between radio transceivers that facilitate faster, effective communications.
  • Visuals throughout the factory to identify equipment and materials as well as provide procedural information for employees.

Today, information is everything. It is the currency on which the world runs. Yet data is only useful when it's accurate, collected properly, managed efficiently and analyzed effectively. Otherwise, data is just random pieces of the business puzzle that don't serve a purpose. Your business needs to see the whole picture, and that visibility is only achievable with a data strategy that can maximize your production floor communications that supports efficient operations.

Learn more about how to master IT/OT alignment on the factory floor.