How data can help Business work smarter, faster, and more efficiently

Connected systems, with their ability to accumulate and pinch massive quantities of data, are transforming industry and business.

For beginners, they’re changing the role of flesh-and-blood human beings in industrial settings. For most of the history of how we make things, humans have been forced to attend minutiae–for example, to the question of what machine parts required replacement, and exactly when.

That’s coming to an end. Today’s technology is liberating humans to do the cerebral work machines won’t ever be capable of. Machines, for their part, are taking over from individuals, and excelling at, the rote but crucial tasks–monitoring wear and tear on ball bearings and the like.

Here are four ways that data is helping industry work smarter, faster, and with greater efficiency:

Understanding Condition-Based Tracking

Data-driven industrial methods keep developing. Condition-based monitoring (CBM) is a new maintenance trend that uses real-time data to improve on traditional predictive maintenance practices.

Predictive maintenance uses sensor-supplied data to discern with precision how a machine will function (or not function) in the future.

Making Big Systems Comprehensible

A digital twin is exactly what it sounds like: A computer-based model of a real-world object or system, in particular one of a size or complexity that defies the human ability to comprehend it as it is. Think of a nuclear reactor, a container ship, or even an entire city.

A digital twin puts that object or system in front of human managers, in forms that they can work with and research, from numerical datasets to 3D imagery. Those managers can, among other things, tinker with inputs, extrapolating from current conditions to check what might happen to the item or system given increased workloads or extreme temperatures.

Data, of course, is what makes the twin tick: The connected sensors that monitor the original thing feed real-time information simultaneously to the twin.

One BIG strength of a digital twin is its ability to deliver information contextually–that is, according to users’ roles, use cases, and desirable outcomes. As PTC business analyst David Immerman explains in a September 2019 article, a digital twin can deliver insights that go well beyond the repair and maintenance of industrial machines or systems.

A service executive may use predictive maintenance to identify a product defect and take action to remediate it. In addition, an operations manager can use performance metrics to improve production processes. And an engineer can take the lessons learned from both to create greater iterations of a product’s design.

Making the Factory Floor More Efficient–and More Safe

Manufacturing and other industrial facilities are also getting safer thanks to data.

Sensor tech can trace how humans and machines (like forklifts) interact on busy shop floors, generating data that can inform planning. In light of how workers move from their workstations to exits and rest rooms, what’s the best way to structure the floor? Which spaces at a facility remain underutilized, and which can be put to better use?

In the always-on environment of today’s automated manufacturing or logistics facility, answering these questions won’t just boost efficiency: it could also cut down on injuries and save lives.

Using Data to Make Supply Chains Work

Never has the logistics expert’s craft been as important as it is today. Globalized “just-in-time” supply chains leave no margin for error. A container ship can’t sit port an hour more than it ought to. A fleet of trucks can’t idle at the docks, waiting for the boat to offload.

The IoT enables visibility along an entire supply chain–a visibility that can prevent breakdowns. If technical problems at a manufacturing facility in China are slowing production of a key export element, the maritime operator tasked with transporting it to the US will know that in real time. 

That operator can then scale back the space assigned to that facility’s products, or assign it elsewhere. The US distribution facility can adjust its capacity as well.

Sensor-enabled freight lots can indicate precisely what time they’ll arrive at a train depot, so that trucks can materialize exactly when they’re needed–no sooner, no later.

Connected IoT tech, collecting and analyzing data, are the orchestrating mechanism for the supremely intricate and productive industrial system of tomorrow. It will make industrial operations safer, faster, more supple, and more efficient, changing dramatically how we make and distribute to each other the things we desire.