The Internet of Things (IoT) is a massive growth area for businesses at the forefront of technology. It encompasses the interconnectivity of devices and has a multitude of applications. IoT innovations are either inward facing, optimising systems and saving costs, or outward facing, improving customer experience. With analysts suggesting there will be as many as 31 billion internet-connected devices by 2020, it has huge implications for the way we do business and ultimately live our lives.
There are some clear front-runners in the IoT revolution where organizations are investing heavily, and IoT is having the most significant impact. These include the likes of manufacturing, transportation and utilities. In fact, more and more companies are looking at how IoT can be leveraged across all functions from design and production to sales and customer experience. The challenge is for organizations to work out the best ways in which IoT can help grow their business and give them a competitive advantage. In this article, we’ve highlighted five examples of how businesses are using IoT across the leading industries.
Manufacturing has a history of using automated systems, and therefore it has been a natural progression for it to turn to the optimisation offered by IoT. Manufacturing is a market that is highly interconnected, there are many use cases, and IoT deployments often offer a rapid return. There are opportunities to optimise processes, monitor equipment and do preventative and predictive maintenance. Meanwhile, IoT allows manufacturers to examine how products are used by their customers by having a maintained link. Data analysis allows businesses to find patterns in how products are used to help next-generation development, innovations or early diagnosis of problems. Manufacturing continues to be the market where most industrial IoT projects are realised and certainly where most investments are made. According to IDC data, the manufacturing industry spent a staggering €178 billion in 2016, almost double that of transportation.
An excellent manufacturing example comes from Harley-Davidson, a motorcycle manufacturer well known for its ability to adapt to change and grow stronger. Recent changes to the industry have shifted focus away from mass production and onto customized products. On rebuilding a major production plant in York, the company honed in on making its production process more visible. The company entirely changed how the plant floor operated by adopting smart manufacturing techniques. Multiple predetermined assembly lines were exchanged for a digital supply chain where individual production is guided by planning needs, software and automation. All machines are connected to a single system to track performance and status in real-time. Employees have greater visibility of the plant floor, are able to track production of individual orders and make informed decisions in real-time. The planning cycle has been drastically increased and has increased flexibility and opportunities for customisation. On top of this, the facility has reduced costs by 7%, increased employee productivity by 2.4% and improved net margin by 19%.
The transportation industry is another heavy investor in IoT. A lot of this investment comes from Freight monitoring with a spend of €55.9 billion reported in 2016. More and more freight and public vehicles are now equipped with sensors to help schedule maintenance, train drivers and optimise fuel consumption. Applications include monitoring driving behaviour for insurance purposes, ensuring goods arrive in a safe condition and monitoring the systems in fleet management.
Siemens is using IoT technology combined with big data analytics to revolutionise the service and safety of trains, and to help rail companies get a greater return on their investment. Delays are renowned for causing disruption and frustration to customers, and Siemens claims that its ‘Internet of Trains’ will resolve, this taking away the worry from consumers and large financial penalties from train operators. The system works by monitoring everything on trains from engine temperature to rail vibrations and external data collected by cameras and meteorological datasets. Availability is improved by the possibility to perform predictive maintenance, efficiency increases as individual components are monitored, and asset utilisation is optimised. Since its introduction in Russia in 2016, there have been as few as nine delays on trips from Moscow to St Petersburg, which included 16 trains running multiple journeys each day. The company has also seen great results in terms of fault spotting and maintenance, and plans are to increase the volume of visual image data to further enhance results.
The utilities industry is another sector that is making significant investments in IoT, with spend predicted to reach €73 billion this year. The possibility for smart grids and smart meters allows companies to cut down on inefficiencies while meeting demand more efficiently. Companies are able to spot outages and know when to schedule repairs. As electricity meters have power, the use of IoT is an obvious one; it eliminates the need for someone to read meters. IoT solutions have also made a considerable difference to the oil and gas industries with vast areas across which pipes and valves can be monitored to avoid breakages.
In an interesting IoT innovation, Florida-based electricity company Duke Energy claims to have created a self-healing grid. The concept is that the grid will automatically reconfigure itself when power is lost. Digital sensors are placed at substations and on power lines to detect problems, problems are communicated with the control center, and then the damaged section is isolated. The company alleges that the system can automatically detect, isolate and reroute power when a problem occurs, ensuring customers have power back in record speed. The state of Indiana is due to trial the technology as part of its modernisation project, the outcomes potential determining a change for us all.
Healthcare is an industry that is due to see a drastic upturn in spend due to the broad use of IoT technologies. Medical machines can share images and data amongst caregivers, equipment can be monitored and maintained, and real-time location systems can track dispensation of medicine. Meanwhile, advancements in prosthetics and wearables can stream data to medical providers allowing them to improve products and gain medical insights. It is expected that by 2020, 80% of consumer interactions will use big data and IoT to improve the quality of care.
Proteus Digital Health has created a digital pill to track whether patients have taken their medication. The pill is fitted with a small ingestible sensor that communicates with a patch worn on the body. An electrical signal is activated when the sensor comes into contact with stomach acid. The sensor then transmits to a smartphone app and data can be shared with authorised healthcare professionals. The ingestible sensor is used alongside drugs to treat illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. The ingestible pill offers a huge opportunity to combat medicines not being taken as prescribed, which happens in over 50% of cases according to the World Health Organization.
Consumer electronics is another growth area for IoT with the rise of home and office automation systems and digital assistants. Manufacturers are increasingly using IoT approaches to ensure their household appliances are networked. Many entry-level products fit seamlessly into everyday life by turning lights on, unlocking doors and automating habitual household needs. However, the growth in this area may be a little slower than others as it depends on the adoption of the technology with consumers. They are unlikely to spend on connected technology until upgrades are needed, or existing technology fails.
The list of IoT applications in consumer electronics is expansive as with all the industries we’ve highlighted. An example is the award-winning smart video doorbell by Skybell. The doorbell sends live HD video to your smartphone via a mobile app so that you can see, hear and speak to visitors regardless of whether you’re at home. The doorbell also has night vision and a motion sensor to alert you even if the doorbell isn’t pressed. The safety aspects of this IoT application are undeniable, allowing you to stay connected to your home whether you are and on your terms.
With IoT use cases increasing drastically across all sectors we will continue to notice the impacts in our home and working lives. Businesses need to consider carefully how they can leverage IoT technologies to compete in the ever-evolving digital landscape.
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