One of the more negative iconic images of the Industrial Revolution was of child workers being sent into coal mines. Thankfully, that’s an age long behind us.
Our own era promises a different revolution: one in which miners no longer need to descend into the mine shaft, wield a pick, endure suffocating temperatures or constant jarring vibration, or risk their lives for underground goods like coal, gold or diamonds.
Tomorrow’s mines will increasingly rely on sensor-equipped, software-driven machinery, a complex technology evolution enabled by the movement toward the Internet of Things (IoT). And it’s not just mining that’s benefiting from the IoT. While the technology sector conjures an image of silicon chips and clean rooms, processors and analytics, sensors and the cloud, manufacturers across sectors are moving toward a world of IoT-enabled intelligent products and systems.
Intelligent Solutions: There’s Gold in Them Hills
Ordering dinner through an app, calling Lyft to get to a restaurant or paying bills through a smartphone are the accepted conventions of today’s digital world. Now a new technology wave is transforming remote-operated or software-driven equipment into IoT-enabled, autonomous, self-learning machinery that reacts to changing circumstances in real time.
Driverless heavy machinery is already functioning at multinational metals and mining company Rio Tinto’s massive open-pit iron mining operations at Pilbara in Western Australia, with 400-plus-ton trucks larger than two-story houses hauling massive loads of ore and waste material. Operated from a control room hundreds of miles away, the trucks work alongside other vehicles and heavy machinery, adjusting in real time to a mine’s changing layout as ore and waste are removed.
Soon, most new mines will use pilot-less drilling machines at the coalface, equipped with sensors that allow them to follow seams of ore, monitor temperature and air quality, detect vibrations that may signal danger, and make sensor-informed decisions based on complex risk-driven algorithms.
Trucks, drilling machines, even transportation systems will be interoperable automated systems — in effect, an amalgamation of specialized systems in a single, highly complex machine. The result: more efficient operations, fewer workers exposed to risk, better performance and an improved bottom line.
The Changing Face of Manufacturing
Today’s manufacturers are actively leveraging IoT initiatives to realize internal process efficiencies. Many are changing how they design their production facilities to transform their business – streamlining production and improving productivity.
Consider a renowned heavy equipment manufacturer that has leveraged IoT in its production lines, slashing the time it takes to produce customized equipment at its U.S. facility from 42 minutes to 22 minutes. It did so by automating factory line processes and equipping them with beacons and Intel’s Retail Sensor Platform integrated with Microsoft’s Azure IoT platform. The company has doubled production times, improved quality compliance at the workstation level and boosted employee utilization by 20%.
Increasingly, the definition of a product is evolving to a broader, customer-centric construct, in which sensors gather data on customers’ use of products and their performance, enabling predictive maintenance, insight into future product enhancements, even customer-focused features and improvements, along with better customer service. All are based on deeper insights into users’ behavior, collected and aggregated from the products’ sensors. By outfitting products with smart sensors and connecting them to key systems and networks – and even to each other – manufacturers are replacing transaction-oriented relationships with whole-lifecycle engagement.
An Expanding IoT Influence
With its proven efficiency and productivity gains, it’s no wonder the demand for IoT devices is exploding. According to IDC, 60% of global manufacturers are using analytics to sense and analyze data from connected products and manufacturing. By 2018, IDC says, the proliferation of advanced, purpose-built, analytic applications aligned with IoT will result in 15% productivity improvements for manufacturers regarding innovation delivery and supply chain performance.
Mining? Yes. Oil and gas drilling? Sure. Manufacturing? Certainly. But IoT is not limited to these sectors. Many companies in consumer-facing sectors will also experience change from IoT, from banking to retail to airlines. Connected products and smart manufacturing are here to stay, and they’ll be all around us.
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