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Industrial IoT and Networking Solutions Give Manufacturers an Edge


Since the term Internet of Things (IoT) was first coined in 1999, the use of IoT devices and sensors has skyrocketed. With a predicted 27 billion connected devices in the world by 2025, the market for IoT shows no sign of slowing. 

The implications of IoT are perhaps no greater for any industry than the manufacturing industry. Today, over a third of manufacturers collect and use IoT data to improve manufacturing processes. The application of IoT in manufacturing is commonly referred to as Industrial Internet of Things or IIoT.

What is Industrial IoT (IIoT)?

Simply put, Industrial IoT or IIoT is the application of IoT in manufacturing or industrial environments. More specifically, it’s the use of connected sensors or devices adopted in manufacturing settings. These sensors and devices collect and analyze data, monitor processes, equipment, and machinery. These insights allow manufacturers to make automated and real-time decisions to streamline processes, improve efficiency, and boost revenue. 

Perhaps some of the most compelling use cases for IoT are for manufacturing companies. The use of IoT in manufacturing is so impactful that the implementation of IIoT on a wide scale is often referred to as the “Fourth Industrial Revolution” or Industry 4.0.

The networking foundation of industrial IoT 

To create a thriving IIoT environment, you can’t forget the network. Manufacturers must first lay a comprehensive networking foundation that includes the Cloud, all edge locations, and comprehensive network security. 

Let’s explore how each of these networking solutions forms the foundation for a thriving IoT ecosystem for manufacturing companies.

The Cloud

Because it relies on sensors to capture and analyze data in real time, IoT requires lots of bandwidth to operate.

Hybrid cloud environments are attractive to manufacturers for this reason. Hybrid cloud systems offer the best of both worlds. First, they offer the low latency of on-premises solutions required to capture, store, and analyze data in real time. Plus they enable flexibility and massive bandwidth required for storage and compute functions offered by public Cloud services.

The Edge

The massive amount of data IoT devices create and transmit can overwhelm a traditional WAN system. Using an SD-WAN solution on top of your WAN can unify thousands of sites to create one cohesive network. These sites can include your factories, your offices, the Cloud, your data centers, the edge, and all devices.

Further, SD-WAN operates at the application level – ensuring that critical apps have the bandwidth they require at all times. In addition, SD-WAN ties your network together on a “single pane of glass.” Here, you can see and understand its performance, its problems, and the fixes that the SD-WAN overlay has implemented.

Securing the Edge

While there are huge benefits to implementing IoT in industrial settings, this does not come without risks. If IoT devices are not properly secured, bad actors could potentially use them to access the entire network. Plus, because they’re interconnected, an attack on one device can disrupt the entire system of devices, potentially causing unplanned downtime.

As a result, manufacturers should consider a SASE solution to secure the edge and IoT environments they now rely on. SASE combines SD-WAN with multiple security measures such as CASB, ZTNA, FWaaS, and SWG. These measures protect your employees, offices, factories, and data centers in one scalable solution.

SASE leverages the Cloud, so there’s no need to purchase new hardware. Plus, it’s managed by your vendor. This means that there’s no need to hire specialized security or IT staff to manage it.

SASE effectively protects against threats from the Internet, Cloud, and partner networks. It does so by taking a network-based approach to protecting users at the edge of your network.

How is IoT used in manufacturing?

Once the proper networking foundation is laid, you can get to work building a comprehensive, interconnected IIoT ecosystem. This system can help increase efficiencies, reduce costs, and boost productivity. 

Here are some of the ways manufacturers are using IIoT and the benefits of these applications. 

Remote monitoring

The rise of remote work has encouraged company leaders to consider which of their manufacturing operations could be completed remotely. The manufacturing field is no different. Using IoT, manufacturing employees can monitor things like machine health and usage from a distance. This adds a layer of convenience to a job that previously required teams to be entirely on-site. 

Predictive maintenance

One of the most compelling applications of IIoT is predictive maintenance. Using sensors and IoT devices on machinery, equipment, and around the warehouse, manufacturers can monitor critical metrics. This can include measurements like temperature, currents, and vibrations.

If something is not working correctly, the devices and sensors can identify the anomaly. This alerts employees to make the necessary adjustments to avoid machine malfunctions and downtime. 

This is a huge win for manufacturers. Before the dawn of IoT, predicting needed maintenance was little more than a guessing game. Manufacturers relied on physical indicators – like a machine breaking – telling them when maintenance was required or relied on regularly scheduled maintenance. Now, IoT makes it possible to predict when a machine needs maintenance before visible issues arise.  

Predictive maintenance, assisted by IoT technology, can reduce downtime caused by broken or faulty machines and equipment. For the 82% of companies that experienced unplanned downtime in the past three years, predictive maintenance can reduce downtime-related costs.

Digital twins 

A digital twin is a virtual replica of a physical asset and environment. In manufacturing, digital twins are helpful because they allow manufacturers to run simulations in a virtual environment. This way, they can test situations or processes without risking damage to employees or physical assets.

Digital twins rely on IoT sensors to collect data to build a real-time virtual picture of the physical manufacturing environment. The more granular the data provided, the more accurate the replica. Using these virtual replicas, manufacturers can identify bottlenecks in production processes or machine malfunctions. This way, they can make changes in the physical environment to optimize efficiency.

In addition to enabling greater efficiency, these virtual environments could also be used for training purposes. Companies can use digital twins to teach employees how to run and manage equipment to avoid costly errors in physical settings. 

Logistics management

IoT sensors and devices have value, from planning to production, throughout the supply chain. This can include asset tracking, monitoring the environment to ensure the proper storage of goods, and more.

One of the most widely used and transformative applications of IoT in logistics is in tracking delivery vehicles. By tracking vehicles, companies can accurately predict when a delivery will arrive. They can also use the data provided to streamline processes to create optimal routes for delivery drivers. This has been revolutionary for the manufacturing industry, enabling major process efficiencies leading to lower operating costs and improved delivery times. 

Inventory management

Inventory tracking and management is another logistical application of IIoT. Sensors throughout the warehouse can help accurately track levels of stock for better decision-making. Having a real-time view of what is low in stock can help manufacturers properly stock their warehouses. It can also improve the time to completion of products by enabling them to proactively restock needed items. 

Quality control

Sensors and IoT devices in a factory can monitor critical environmental factors like humidity, temperature, and product storage conditions. These environmental conditions can be critical in some industries. 

For example, high humidity levels can warp inventory made of wood like furniture, resulting in damaged, unsellable inventory. IoT sensors that can detect humidity levels alert employees before damage occurs. This ultimately saves manufacturers money by lowering the possibility of damaged goods. 

Improving employee skills and workplace safety

Better communication between man and machine also lends to greater efficiency in overall processes. To close the IoT skills gap, invest in upskilling employees, hiring employees with IoT knowledge, or outsourcing IoT-related roles. Training employees that work with IoT in any capacity can be rewarding as the demand for IoT jobs grows. 

In addition, workers can use wearables like smartwatches to track vital signs, improve safety, and prevent accidents.

Zayo Enables Manufacturing Digital Transformation 

Today’s manufacturers are turning to IoT to lower costs, decrease downtime, increase process efficiencies, and improve workplace safety. With the IoT market for manufacturing expected to grow to $87.9 billion by 2026, manufacturers will continue to adopt IoT solutions. They will need the networking solutions needed to support them – and to keep up with the competition. 

To operate optimally, IIoT requires storage and compute functions to be closer to the source of data. Luckily, Zayo offers the edge networking solutions manufacturers need to act on insights in real time.

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