Industry 4.0 is upon us, and it’s about so much more than just automation and unique manufacturing methods. Indeed, manufacturers generate significantly more data than most realize. However, the most successful manufacturers will capture this data in real time and leverage it to improve quality, ensure worker safety, forecast maintenance, manage supply chain risks, and even reduce waste.
The internet of things (IoT) will continue to lie close to the heart of this transformation. While many IoT products are can be found in the consumer or industrial spaces—from smart home appliances and cars to drones—manufacturers are also leading the IoT revolution, and systems-designers need tools to create products that form the cornerstone of Industry 4.0. With an investment in 3D printing, a digital manufacturing technology, electronics designers can contribute to the internet of things in the manufacturing industry by leveraging the ability to design novel IoT parts that can monitor and control processes that drive continuous improvement.
The internet of things at work
How IoT Enables Smart Manufacturing
Factories old and new can generate huge amounts of data during production. Equipment in factories is highly interconnected from a physical perspective, but not from an information perspective. With embedded IoT sensor networks and control systems, equipment can be interconnected throughout the factory floor. Manufacturing data, if captured and mined for insights, can help engineers identify operational bottlenecks, ensure uptime, and improve productivity.
Capturing all of this data throughout a factory takes sophisticated wireless sensor networks that gather data directly from production equipment. The data can be fed to a base station and analyzed in real time, giving manufacturers a digital link between productivity, product quality, and equipment performance. The most advanced manufacturers are already using this information to optimize their process flows and eliminate waste.
Of course, connecting manufacturing equipment to a base station for analysis is just one important aspect of IoT connectivity on the factory floor. Here are some benefits of implementing IoT sensor networks and other IoT systems in production facilities:
- Enhance product quality. Machines can use these IoT sensor networks to pass data to each other as part of a factory-wide industrial control system. This allows production assets to fine-tune important processing parameters to ensure that products come off the line meeting quality standards.
- Ability to forecast and plan maintenance. Perhaps the best way to ensure uptime on the factory floor is with preventative maintenance. According to Accenture, preventative maintenance reduces breakdowns by up to 70%, incurring up to 30% lower maintenance costs than reactive maintenance. Data gathered from equipment with sensor networks can help manufacturing engineers forecast upcoming maintenance and plan accordingly.
- Enable machine learning. Going further, integrating embedded sensor networks with internal and external machine learning capabilities allows machines to identify, forecast, and remedy imminent production issues with less human intervention. Production assets can be transformed into self-diagnosing and self-healing systems. These capabilities can also be used to trigger notifications to engineering teams, helping factories prevent crisis situations.
- Improve health and safety. Finally, manufacturers can rest assured that their operations are efficient, as well as compliant with health and safety regulations when they leverage networks of environmental sensors. Temperature, humidity, and other conditions on the factory floor can affect the quality of the final products. Workers can be kept safe and immediately notified of health hazards with IoT sensor-enabled personal protective equipment that monitors environmental conditions in a factory. This is possible with wearable wireless sensors that monitor toxic gases, noise levels, pulse rate, and other health data.
Internet of things sensor networks monitor a variety of variables in a manufacturing setting
Additive Manufacturing in Industry 4.0
With additive manufacturing expected to take a greater role in all aspects of Industry 4.0, what can electronics designers do to help continue transforming how manufacturers optimize their operations to quickly and efficiently know what needs attention? You’ll need to create a diverse array of sensors and communications devices to collect and transmit data in manufacturing facilities.
The adaptability offered by additive manufacturing is critical to ensuring that data can be easily gathered from any location and from any piece of production equipment. For example, the location requiring a mounted sensor on manufacturing equipment may benefit from having an odd shape and size, and it may not be practical to mount commercial probes in these locations. With the right additive manufacturing system, you can print a sensor with embedded wireless capabilities and in almost any shape you can imagine, allowing data collection throughout your facility.
Additionally, it’s critical to monitor environmental variables to ensure quality in many manufacturing processes. Additive manufacturing can be used to build adaptable temperature, humidity, and pressure sensors with wireless capabilities to remotely track these variables.
Manufacturers can also use additive manufacturing systems for more than building wireless sensor networks. For example, 3D printed parts might be used to restore production capacity in an emergency. If a piece of production equipment goes down and needs a new mechanical part to keep running, manufacturers are already aware that they can 3D print a mechanical replacement part in-house. Production could come back online within days, rather than weeks. With the advent of advanced additive manufacturing for electronics, this is becoming an option for electrical parts also.
Additional benefits of additive manufacturing over traditional manufacturing include the ability to print complex geometries, reduce weight, save space, and produce rapid design iterations. These are all advantages electronics designers can leverage to contribute to the internet of things in manufacturing.
Sit at the Forefront of the Internet of Things in the Manufacturing Industry
The same competencies that are used to design and create IoT devices to complement traditional manufacturing apply to consumer electronics. No matter the industry you’re in, the right additive manufacturing system allows you to stay at the forefront of new technology and allows you to create fully customized electronic devices that meet your specific needs. This is especially true in manufacturing, where it’s critical to stay at the pinnacle of safety and productivity now more than ever. Additive manufacturing for IoT devices gives electronics designers and manufacturers the flexibility and capabilities they need to reach this goal.
Staying on the cutting edge of the internet of things in the manufacturing industry takes an additive manufacturing system like DragonFly Pro. You can keep prototyping functions in-house by designing important components for IoT systems in less time and at lower costs. If you’re interested in learning more about the DragonFly Pro system, read a case study or contact us today.