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What does your factory recommend? How IIoT empowers manufacturers to be smarter, leaner, and stronger

The American manufacturing industry plays a crucial role in ensuring our food, beverages, and medications are safe. It’s part of the reason we have vaccines at peak efficacy and milk that isn’t spoiled on delivery.

But today’s industry leaders are battling more headwinds than ever. There are ongoing supply chain disruptions. A domestic labor shortage. And the worsening effects of climate change.

To continue growing in this new reality, manufacturers will need not just smart leadership and dedicated workers but also intelligence that comes from the factory itself––the so-called “smart factory.” What does this mean on a practical level?

It means embracing the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), which involves orchestrating connected sensors, digital apps, and AI-powered analytics tools to transform factories from a place where work happens to an active, intelligent participant in guiding that work.

Investing in smart factories is the key to achieving Industry 4.0., a tech-driven Industrial Revolution that will define the future of manufacturing. With the help of smart factories, manufacturers can adapt to unexpected circumstances and consistently produce safe, high-quality products.

Here, we’ll look at three concrete ways manufacturing leaders can use IIoT to supercharge their facilities.

Ready to embrace IIoT?

1. Streamline inventory management

Inventory management is more than a revenue concern. Consider pharmaceutical manufacturers, for instance. Supply bottlenecks and shipping delays on ingredients can have disastrous downstream impacts—just see the ongoing Adderall shortage.

While a smart factory can’t fix external factors, it can provide better forecasting and tracking. For example, AI-powered analytics tools can evaluate asset tracking data throughout the supply chain and predict accurate delivery times. And thanks to continuous data streams, these tools can adjust predictions in real time (i.e., as soon as a shipment stalls or a conveyor belt breaks down) so that factory leaders can communicate expectations with their customers.

A smart factory can do even more to help manage the forces within its walls. Take the ongoing baby formula shortage, for example. The shortage happened because of a failure to maintain sanitary conditions in the production facility––something a smart factory would have called attention to long before it caused a nationwide crisis with, for example, WiFi- and Bluetooth-connected data loggers.

These devices can relay key environmental data (about temperature, humidity, pressure, etc.) to the cloud for central access. And companion software can send alerts when an environment has gotten too hot or cold. This way, workers can quickly resolve problems and preserve product quality.

The takeaway? The industrial Internet of Things enables the “intelligence” that exists scattered throughout a factory to coalesce into a powerful guiding force that enables better outcomes at every level.

2. Slash equipment downtime

Imagine a team that monitors several robotic packaging machines. Workers might physically check machine functionality every few hours. But one day, a few machine arms jam up between checks—and the whole packaging line screeches to a halt.

Equipment failures like these are the last thing manufacturers want. And with a shrinking workforce, workers may be too overstretched to quickly resolve machine issues. Translation: greater downtime that impacts customer satisfaction and company revenue.

Again, IIoT can help. Connected asset tracking devices continuously monitor equipment health. At regular service intervals or when a machine falls below established performance thresholds, connected software can push alerts to the appropriate worker so that maintenance happens before breakdowns occur.

The smart factory is able to communicate its “symptoms” to factory managers in the way a child might say they have a headache. Except the smart factory is much more advanced than a child: it’s powered by extensive AI-fueled insights and can guide manufacturing leaders in exactly how to address the problems it identifies.

3. Simplify compliance

Smart factories can expedite compliance efforts by eliminating a lot of the manual tedium. With the industrial Internet of Things, connected sensors can continuously relay essential data to a cloud-based app for convenient analysis and reporting.

For example, let’s say a pharmaceutical manufacturer needs to submit monthly reports about their vaccine storage conditions. In a smart factory, connected sensors can capture ongoing temperature and humidity data. Then, workers can use a web app to generate reports. They can even customize each report based on product-specific requirements (e.g., separate temperature ranges for mRNA vs. traditional vaccines).

The smart factory makes the work of compliance easier via continuous monitoring and proactive alerts. And it streamlines reporting by capturing the data necessary to fuel compliance reports.

Smart factories give you the floor-level knowledge to adapt

There will always be risks that come from forces outside of an organization’s control. Embracing the smart factory model is all about minimizing the risks that are within its control so that external disruptions and complications have less negative impact.

Smart factories empower manufacturers to boost productivity, product quality, worker safety, and regulatory compliance—no matter the industry headwinds.

The key to achieving the best smart factory ROI: an IIoT innovation strategy that can continuously adapt to the needs of users and the business. That’s where we come in.

For over 20 years, TXI has partnered with manufacturing companies to build powerful IIoT products. With user-driven design, collaborative ideation, and a fail-fast mentality, we can work with your team to do the same—and help you sustain a culture of innovation.

Interested in how a smart factory can help your organization? Let’s have a conversation.

Published by Jason Hehman , Andrew Horner in Industry 4.0

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