Remote monitoring is changing business, life, and more specifically some industries like manufacturing. For this column, perhaps it might be important to begin with an overview of what we might be able to expect from manufacturing and its adoption of IoT (Internet of Things) technologies in the next several years.

Evidence suggests there are some major transformational shifts on the horizon for manufacturing.

For instance, the number of fully connected factories is expected to double in the next five years, according to a wonderful piece of research on this space: the 2017 manufacturing vision study from Zebra Technologies.

Manufacturers expect growth to follow connectivity. About 88% of survey respondents say they expect to experience revenue growth in the next five years. And nearly half (44%) predict this growth will amount to 5% or more year-over-year between now and 2022.

As to why manufacturers are investing in technology, 50% cite the need to be flexible enough to adjust to market demands. Another 46% suggest they value increased visibility across operations, and 58% identify the need to improve supplier quality.

All of these factors are long term, and that is significant. One shift that has become apparent during the years is that we hear less about short-term ROI (return on investment) when it comes to the factors businesses consider before investing in the IoT.

We hear a lot more about businesses wanting to understand longer-term quality performance metrics to help guide their IoT investments and deployments.

It’s not that ROI isn’t a consideration—because of course it is. It’s more like businesses are learning from others—early adopters, competitors, or other industries entirely—that the IoT will pay off. It’s just a matter of when and how.

This indicates maturation in the space. The IoT isn’t a gimmick, and, arguably, it’s not overhyped anymore. (at least not as much as it once was.)

The IoT is the future, and more businesses in more industries are realizing and accepting this fact. This is part of a shift that’s been occurring in companies’ mindsets for a while now.

During the past several years we’ve seen it firsthand as we’ve talked to executives in charge of adopting IoT technologies at their companies for almost a decade.

Whereas it used to be: “If we adopted IoT technology, what would we gain?” Now it’s: “When we adopt IoT technology, how can we best leverage it?” This is really important to mention, but let’s get back to manufacturing.

Zebra’s survey identifies some top strategies for manufacturers looking to drive growth and improve financial performance. The strategies are:

  • Increase total production/throughput;
  • Improve ability to adjust to fluctuating market demand;
  • Increase number of product variants;
  • Increase visibility across the enterprise;
  • And decrease cost of production.

So many of these can be achieved or perfected with the IoT. Manufacturers are also introducing quality checkpoints and automation at more stages in the manufacturing process. This leaves the door wide open for IoT solutions to help improve operations and, ultimately, product quality. Another point that can’t be overlooked is regarding manufacturers’ expectations about data and how it will be used in five years.

About 64% of respondents in the 2017 manufacturing vision study expect factory data to be fully connected to production, supply chain, and workers by 2022.

What’s more, 19% believe data captured from multiple sources will remain in silos by 2022. Just 11% of respondents take a more pessimistic view—that the data collected on the factory floor will lack a connection to systems or staff in five years’ time.

To come full circle, remote monitoring is one way manufacturers collect the data we’re talking about—the data that can help optimize processes, improve workflow, and enhance decisionmaking.

By 2022, more than a quarter (28%) of manufacturers expect to have realtime monitoring across the entire manufacturing process, which compares to just 7% in 2017.

This leap in what manufacturers expect to be the norm is part of what’s being called “Industry 4.0” or the fourth industrial revolution.

The IIoT (industrial Internet of Things) is becoming pervasive in the industrial space simply because it’s necessary for companies to stay competitive on a global scale.

Those that don’t adopt get left behind. And, as usual, adoption isn’t enough.

One of the crucial steps for manufacturers adopting the IoT is to find ways to leverage data through analytics. This means using data to do more than just track machines and their performance … and it even goes beyond predictive maintenance.

It means leveraging data to continuously identify areas manufacturers could be saving time and money. In an effort not to sound like a broken record because I have written about this before about other industries, IoT technology is no longer a luxury for manufacturing; it’s a must-have.

Actually, when I think back on all we’ve covered this month regarding remote monitoring, this seems to be an underlying theme.

In agriculture, the IoT is taking the guesswork out of growing and producing. It’s making it easier to track offshore vessels. It’s also changing healthcare as we know it. And in manufacturing—the industry that supports so many other industries—the IoT is essential in meeting the business demands of both today and tomorrow. It’s almost as necessary as the air we breathe.

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