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Should You Join the IoT Revolution?

By Jonathan Davis | October 07, 2019

Do you already know the connection between the Internet of things, band saws, and warm bottles of Coke? Together they're shaping the future of manufacturing, and now's the time to find out how you can be a part of it.

Before exploring the connection between the three, it's important to have a solid understanding of each one.

Internet of things: the 4th industrial revolution

The Internet of things (IoT) is often called the 4th industrial revolution, but is it really? Think about the fundamental changes brought about by the first three revolutions.

1765 The steam engine fundamentally changes how work gets done. Basically, up until that time, everything was done directly by people or domesticated animals. With the rise of the factory, there's a huge shift as people move off farms and into towns.

1870 The internal-combustion engine, electricity, and the perfection of the assembly line drive mass production. Chemical fertilizers boost yields and slash the need for agricultural labor. More people stream into cities.

1969 Advances in electronics starts the shift from analog to digital. Microprocessors power computers and robots, and manufacturing embraces automation. Everyone is still living in cities, but now they're trading with people all over the world thanks to telecommunications and global supply chains.

These revolutions, each kicked off by major technological advancements, involved radical worldwide economic and sociological changes. Is IoT really at the same level? It likely is. Here's why.

IoT vs. IIoT

Quick note before we get any further: You'll hear the terms Internet of things and industry Internet of things used and confused often enough that it's worth nailing down definitions.

IoT has three blocks at its foundation:

  • Cheap sensors with long-lasting batteries

  • Widespread connectivity, with your watch talking to your doorbell and your washing machine talking to Amazon.

  • Cloud-based digital tools that crunch data and deliver new insights

When put together, they create a whole new relationship between people and machines, with machines now spending a lot more time communicating with one another. Kevin Ashton is considered to have been the first to articulate the concept, back in 1999 when he was working for Procter & Gamble and wanted them to start attaching RFID chips to everything. At a company meeting, he explained:​

"Nearly all of the roughly 50 petabytes of data available on the Internet were first captured and created by human beings by typing, pressing a record button, taking a digital picture, or scanning a bar code. ... If we had computers that knew everything there was to know about things, using data they gathered without any help from us, we would be able to track and count everything and greatly reduce waste, loss, and cost. We would know when things needed replacing, repairing, or recalling and whether they were fresh or past their best.​"
 

Think back to the earlier industrial revolutions. In the first and second, we worked side by side with machines. In the third, we build machines that could work autonomously by following our instructions. Now, with IoT, the machines are communicating with and following instructions from one another.​ And everything is set to become more and more M2M (machine to machine). Already, there more than 8 billion connected things worldwide, and by 2020 there's expected to be 30.7 billion. By 2022, IoT sensors alone are projected to be worth more than $27 billion.

So what's IIoT? The subheading for this section is misleading. It's not one vs. the other. Industry Internet of things is the subcategory of IoT that's specifically related to industry. An easy was to think about it is that IoT is music and IIoT is jazz (or classic rock or country, etc.). Now, just because it's a subset doesn't mean it's small. IIoT is predicted to generate $15 trillion of global GDP by 2030. 

Band Saws: IIoT Application

OK, so how do band saws fit into all of this? It's because they're often used as an example of IIoT in action. Specifically, they're used as an example of predictive maintenance.

Predictive maintenance

Band saws are not relatively expensive to buy, but they can be expensive to run because you end up going through a lot of band saw belts. They're in some ways just like ink jet printers, where the machine is cheap but the replacement ink is pricey. The old system was to intuit through experience the best time to replace the belt, but you were always going to be either too early, which means you're wasting money throwing out a still-good belt, or too late, which means the belt could easily break midway through a cut, damaging expensive materials or products and risking employees' safety.


With IIoT, data-collecting sensors connect to cloud-based digital tools that predict in real-time when the belt is going to break. It's a textbook example of predictive maintenance, which you can learn about in more detail in our blog post Make the Right Decision: Is Predictive Maintenance Right for Your Business?

To make things absolutely clear here, IIoT gives you the crystal ball-view of your operations. It's not telling you what's happening now, which is what you get with condition-based maintenance. It's a step further--right into the future. You get to see what's going to happen.

Warm bottles of Coke

And finally, the warm bottles of Coke. We're looking at them last, but they actually come at the beginning of the IoT story. Back in 1982, a group of students at Carnegie Melon University created the first IoT device. A graduate student in the computer science department, David Nichols, was tired of walking all the way from his office to the Coke machine only to find it either empty or full of warm bottles. Working with two other computer science students and a research engineer, Nichols' first step was deciphering the machine's internal red lights, which turned on and off based on the number of cold Cokes. He then build a small electrical board that could monitor the lights and relay the machine's status to the department's main computer, which was connected to the ARPNET, an early forerunner of the Internet. Soon, anyone with access to the network could check on the Coke machine.

You can read the whole story and find out why one of the creators of the first IoT device thought the technology would never become widespread.

Next steps

The good news is you don't need to rush out and reconfigure your whole operation based on IIoT principles and methods. No need to connect every asset on your factory floor to the coffee machine in the break room. You can start a bit smaller and give the maintenance department a chance to ease into cloud-based digital tools. A good start is an intuitive, easy-to-use (but powerful) CMMS, which will streamline your work order workflow, cut downtime, and help you avoid budget-busting repairs and replacements. If you don't have a CMMS software yet, now's the time to reach out to providers and learn about implementing one. Good providers can help you determine your needs and what's going to work best for you.

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Topics: Manufacturing Facility Management Preventive Maintenance facilities maintenance


Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis

Jonathan Davis started out writing for textbooks before branching out to video games and marketing collateral. He has a master’s degree in journalism and a certificate in technical writing.


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