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Automation in manufacturing: Putting the pieces together

The Internet of Things (IoT) is expected to take off in a big way.

Millions upon billions of sensors are being sent out into the world, to collect information that would shed light upon old and new problems, lend new perspectives of them, and hopefully provide insight and intelligence for decision makers to act upon.

Sensors may be relatively new in areas like agriculture or transportation, but in other areas like manufacturing and healthcare, they have been around for longer, often offering benefit in small, little ways.

Intel’s Director of Internet of Things Group , Eric Chan had said, “We realised there is a lot of interest and hype in the Internet of Things, but not many people yet, can quote an example.”

Eric Chan

Eric Chan

In industries like manufacturing however, sensors, IoT and eventually automation can actually yield insurmountable benefit.

The one main big difference is the way sensors are being used now.

Sensors used to be expensive and factories had to be selective about where to place them. This is not the case now.

Chan said, “Because of advances in sensors and computing, it is now possible to have more granular data across the factory to bring new insights.”

When sensors provided information on a per-equipment basis before, now there is a more holistic view, thanks to big data and analytics solutions, of what is going on in a manufacturing facility.

Challenges
For Malaysia, Chan admitted that the manufacturing industry is still not willing to invest in IoT platforms. “They do not see the returns, and are happy enough with cheap labour. But how sustainable is cheap labour?”

Another hurdle to IoT in Malaysian manufacturing is the lack of good integration partners. A huge and comprehensive project like IoT requires a systems integrator who knows what companies want, and is able to customise the platform according to their needs.

There is also the matter of factories needing to be running 24/7, with no allowances for downtime. This makes any IoT project implementation, a huge challenge.

The biggest barrier – Standards
It does not help that there is lack of standards as well.

“There is an initiative in Germany, called Industry 4.0 about how to run the next-generation factory, with a lot of specifications around automation, machine-to-machine connectivity and more,” Chan offered.

But there are also other similar initiatives by different groups, led by different companies, with different interests. For example General Electric’s Industrial Internet, the Smart Manufacturing Leadership Coalition, and various others.

At the moment, the IoT industry does not seem to be swarming around any one coalition in particular. Perhaps it is still early days, but no one initiative is expected to surge ahead anytime soon, because of the breadth and depth of the Internet of Things.

New IoT applications in new industries are still being conceptualised as we speak, and it would be already be a gargantuan feat if the manufacturing industry, just one industry, agrees upon any one standard, any time soon.




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