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In manufacturing, IIoT benefits more than the bottom line

Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) innovation is the driving force behind Industry 4.0, the latest wave in industrial tech that’s transforming the American economy. Companies like Dickson—a leading provider of environmental monitoring solutions—have invested in IIoT to boost decades-long revenue growth, transform their business, and offer more robust and scalable ways of meeting their customers' needs.

The bottom line? Innovative IIoT products can have a real impact on day-to-day operations and the communities we live in. Over time, IIoT can transform internal company culture to foster continuous, incremental innovation in any market.

That’s what Dickson has seen over the last 20-plus years. Together with TXI, Dickson has established DicksonOne as its flagship environmental monitoring IIoT ecosystem. Its customers use a fleet of wifi-connected data loggers alongside a companion data analytics app to monitor their industrial environments around the clock. As the company has developed and evolved this ecosystem, Dickson has found more ways to create value for customers, communities, and its culture.

Here, we’ll use the story of the TXI-Dickson partnership to show how companies are realizing the multifaceted benefits of IIoT innovation.

Background: What is the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT)?

In Industry 4.0 (also known as the Fourth Industrial Revolution), industrial companies use a web of physical devices and digital platforms to collect and analyze real-time sensory data. Known as the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), these devices often communicate via wifi, Bluetooth, or cellular connectivity.

The benefits of IIoT technologies span industries from healthcare to aerospace. But the manufacturing industry has traditionally taken a more cautious approach to establishing the internal processes that support innovation. To avoid stagnating, it’s important for industrial companies to adopt an innovation-first mindset and empower teams to constantly engage with customers about their IIoT needs.

In the next few sections, we’ll further illustrate the benefits of IIoT innovation by exploring its value for three groups: customers, manufacturing companies, and communities.

How IIoT innovation benefits customers

In the environmental monitoring space, customers need IIoT solutions that…

  • Continuously collect large quantities of sensor data.

  • Quickly transmit data to the cloud.

  • Allow both web- and mobile-based data access and analytics.

  • Send push notifications based on custom triggers for around-the-clock monitoring.

  • Organize data in a way that allows for in-depth and at-a-glance analysis.

  • Adapt to the latest enabling technologies (e.g., wifi, Bluetooth, and cellular).

The unfortunate reality, though, is that many companies struggle to design IIoT products that fully meet customers’ needs. Maybe product teams don’t have enough user insights to anticipate what customers want. Or maybe they don’t have the skill set to explore and implement new technologies. The result can be products that stall for years—and ultimately fail to satisfy customers.

But with innovation as a priority, companies can consistently deliver IIoT products that help customers…

  • Boost their operational efficiency.

  • Make more proactive, data-driven decisions.

  • Secure valuable assets.

  • Predict when to repair equipment.

Let’s take a closer look at each IIoT benefit to better understand the customer value of IIoT products.

1. Improved operational efficiency

When it comes to environmental monitoring, one major pain point for customers is the relative inefficiency of data collection, processing, and analysis.

Historically, industrial companies used analog chart recorders to capture temperature, humidity, or pressure readings in an industrial setting (e.g., a warehouse section or cold-storage room). But to extract insights, employees had to pull physical charts and pore over raw data for hours. These manual processes didn’t just limit operational efficiency. They created room for human error, which, at best, spelled rework down the line.

By the early 2000s, though, USB data loggers had largely become the industry standard. After capturing environmental data, employees could plug these devices into a computer for electronic data analysis—a huge advantage over their analog counterparts.

But there was still a major efficiency gap. For one, employees needed to physically plug USB loggers into a computer—a problem if they didn’t have a laptop or desktop nearby. Once plugged in, data could be slow to transfer. And employees still had to manually analyze raw data, even on a computer.

The good news? Wifi and cloud connectivity greatly expedite the environmental monitoring process. Now, customers can rely on connected sensors to quickly transmit near-endless amounts of data. And cloud-based IIoT platforms use algorithms to continuously graph and analyze readings (e.g., displaying temperature fluctuations over time and flashing red when a reading is out of range)

These upgrades have eliminated many of the manual processes that historically frustrated customers. But despite the benefits of IIoT, there’s still room to create more operational efficiencies.

Not all IIoT devices, for instance, come with both a web- and mobile-based companion app. So if an employee is in an airport and wants to view the health of their equipment, they’ll have to wait until they can find a place to sit down, open their laptop, and load up their browser.

Dickson designed its mobile-first environmental monitoring ecosystem to mitigate these inconveniences. At a glance, customers can see the temperature, humidity, or pressure of a specific industrial setting in the DicksonOne app. And they can do that no matter where they are—while watching TV, at a baseball game, or in the TSA line.

2. Protection for valuable assets

In the environmental monitoring space, industrial companies use products like connected data loggers to monitor the health of assets like temperature-sensitive vaccines, humidity-sensitive metals, or perishable foods that require cold storage. A sudden change in an environment can degrade or spoil an entire batch of product.

If left undetected, the impact could pose a safety risk to end users (e.g., vaccine recipients or grocery shoppers) and force a costly product dump and recall.

With innovative IIoT solutions, though, customers can access real-time information about their product health (e.g., via the DicksonOne mobile app). With both web and mobile access to environmental data, manufacturers and other industrial users can have peace of mind about their assets. And with secure assets, they can improve quality control, which introduces cost savings by avoiding expensive product recalls and replacements.

3. Proactive decision making

Picture an employee who’s tasked with monitoring a warehouse section. At 6:00 a.m., they check their data logger’s companion portal via their company laptop—only to find that their assigned section has been out of temperature range for two hours. They’re able to move the stored product and determine what caused the temperature spike, but not before half of the supply has spoiled.

The problem? The IIoT solution didn’t enable proactive decision making. As a result, the employee could only react to a crisis hours after it occurred.

With innovative IIoT solutions like DicksonOne, customers can use…

  • A mobile app to ensure critical information is accessible at any time, from anywhere.

  • Push notifications to deliver real-time updates when an environment goes out of range.

  • App-based estimates about how long a given environment can remain out of range until its contents spoil.

The benefit? More proactive decision-making that can better protect customers’ products and revenue.

4. Predictive equipment maintenance

When an industrial environment goes out of range, it’s often because of an equipment failure. Maybe the HVAC system isn’t reaching one section of a warehouse. Or perhaps a refrigerator’s cooling system broke down. No matter the problem, customers need real-time data about their equipment to anticipate failures and engage in predictive maintenance throughout their supply chain.

IIoT solutions like DicksonOne let customers do just that. For example, let’s say an employee notices that a particular vaccine refrigerator regularly goes out of its set temperature range. Thanks to real-time and historical equipment data, that employee can put in a maintenance order for the refrigerator.

Here, the organization of data matters a lot. DicksonOne lets customers organize their app’s home page based on the equipment being monitored (e.g., a vaccine refrigerator) versus the device monitoring it (e.g., a connected data logger). This way, they can quickly see what needs the most attention. And if problem equipment contains higher-priority assets (say, a new vaccine with limited supply), customers can triage their maintenance efforts accordingly.

The bottom line: with access to innovative IIoT solutions, customers can better forecast equipment failures and reduce operational downtime.

How IIoT innovation transforms company culture

Manufacturing companies often face cultural roadblocks that get in the way of IIoT innovation. Sometimes, there’s a “don’t fix what isn’t broken” mentality that discourages teams from exploring incremental product improvements. Other times, companies may be risk-averse with changing core internal processes.

But innovation is key to staying relevant in today’s fast-evolving world. And it can only happen continuously when companies embrace a product innovation mindset.

To reap the benefits of IIoT innovation, industrial companies must first lay the groundwork for cultural change. One of the most effective ways to do that is with the support of an experienced innovation partner.

A fruitful innovation partnership can help manufacturing companies…

  • Foster cross-team collaboration.

  • Empower product teams to continuously innovate.

  • Nimbly adapt to changing market conditions.

In this section, we’ll use the story of TXI and Dickson’s innovation partnership to dive deeper into each of these benefits.

1. Cross-team collaboration

A collaborative mindset is key to product innovation. It enables teams to dream up IIoT ideas by drawing on as many voices as possible, from internal stakeholders to external partners. And it keeps teams from privileging any one set of ideas (e.g., those of a company leader or influential employee) over others. Instead, teams can work together to refine a pool of ideas into a workable solution.

That’s the approach TXI and Dickson have taken together over the course of our 20-year partnership. And it’s been central to our work on DicksonOne.

In the mid-2000s, Dickson’s data loggers relied on cellular connectivity to record and transmit environmental monitoring data. But with wifi on the rise, the TXI team saw an opportunity to upgrade Dickson’s inventory. The concept: wifi-connected data loggers that could continuously transmit data to a cloud-based IIoT data analytics platform.

Dickson quickly saw the value. So our teams partnered to ideate what this might look like. Dickson brought in deep hard tech expertise, plus knowledge about its customers’ industrial compliance needs. TXI brought our software innovation knowhow and design principles. Together, we talked with stakeholders—users, engineers, and leaders—to develop our prototype.

The result was the first iteration of DicksonOne, which today is Dickson’s flagship IIoT product.

2. Continuous innovation

Innovation can’t stop after an initial product rollout. To meet users’ ever-changing needs, teams must continuously explore new ideas that solve existing pain points and anticipate new ones.

That approach has been a mainstay of TXI and Dickson’s relationship. Folks regularly come to team meetings with ideas they’d like to explore. And Dickson embraces those ideas.

One example is our exploration and adoption of new database technology. A few years back, a TXI engineer suggested that Dickson consider whether DicksonOne could benefit from TimescaleDB, a then-new SQL database tool. Dickson gave the go-ahead. Together, we tested the software and ultimately decided to make it Dickson’s primary database technology. It’s helped us future-proof our data storage while optimizing our development speed and storage costs.

3. Agility in changing market conditions

Today, Dickson is more than a supplier of environmental monitoring hardware. It’s an industrial tech company that provides the leading IIoT-powered environmental monitoring platform.

This is a relatively new internal perspective for Dickson. But over the course of its innovation partnership with TXI, the company has been able to forecast the tailwinds that can power long-term growth. The biggest one: customers’ need for a digital environmental monitoring ecosystem that can support compliance efforts.

In recent years, TXI and Dickson have partnered to design new DicksonOne features that meet this need. Some examples include…

  • More granular permissions management to better control access to sensitive data about products and equipment.

  • Custom two-a-day report types to support existing compliance efforts for customers storing COVID-19 vaccines.

These changes have helped Dickson establish itself as a reliable compliance partner in Industry 4.0. And as we continue to iterate on DicksonOne, we’re engaging with users to further understand their compliance needs.

How IIoT innovation impacts communities

We’ve mentioned that IIoT customers in the environmental monitoring space are typically pharmaceutical, aerospace, and food and beverage companies. In these industries, product health isn’t just a revenue concern. It’s a matter of safety for the communities we live in.

Without temperature-controlled vaccines, people can’t receive the safe treatment they need to guard against COVID-19 or the flu. Without humidity-controlled metals, aerospace manufacturers can’t build commercial airplanes that withstand variable atmospheric conditions. And without environmentally-controlled perishables, food and beverage suppliers can’t deliver safe-to-consume products to our grocery stores and restaurants.

The bottom line: IIoT devices play a critical role in protecting our communities. And continuous innovation is key to consistently ensuring safety.

IIoT innovation changes products, companies, and communities

Dickson and TXI’s 20-plus-year partnership tells a clear story. By investing early in IIoT innovation, manufacturing companies can build products that meet the ever-changing needs of customers and communities. Over time, companies can foster an innovation culture that powers growth in any market.

The key is finding an innovation partner that can help you transform your products, culture, and mindset. That’s what we do at TXI.

Want to take the next step in your IIoT innovation journey? Let’s start a conversation.

Published by Jason Hehman

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