IoT in Industry: Spotlight on Smart Manufacturing

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This is the first in a series of articles which will review the top industries that are adopting the Internet of Things (IoT) and shed some light on how they use IoT to improve their work, increase efficiency, pollute less or improve the bottom-line. We welcome you to comment below and share how you have found value in implementing IoT in your industry, products, workflow, safety, controls or processes.

IoT in Industry

Embedded IoT solutions are sweeping the world with surprising veracity and growth. Is this all just a craze to connect everything to the internet or is there real value being generated and realized? According to McKinsey Global Institute, analysis of a cohort of 150 leading IoT applications shows potential to deliver a total economic impact of “$3.9 to $11.1 trillion per year in 2025”! [1] Contrast that to forecasts of $1 trillion in direct IoT spending by 2025 and it’s easy to deduce IoTs net value! [2, 3]

IoT builds value in a number of ways depending on the sector and specific use case. Generally, it provides industries with solutions to improve: logistics, asset tracking, production processes, service response times, safety, traffic management, proactive maintenance and a myriad of other value propositions. Furthermore, IoT can provide industries with data that enhances monitoring and situational awareness. This in turn yields actionable intelligence, which can be used to optimize and improve their environmental and institutional sustainability. In certain markets, IoT allows for operational efficiencies that can yield greater profits, enhanced reliability and quality of service, reduced CO2 emissions, and energy savings.


Perhaps a double edged sword, the Internet of Things paradigm is remarkably flexible. Because it can take advantage of a wide variety of protocols, modes of communication and processing between software and hardware nodes, and can be organized into a variety of different architectures and topologies, it is highly adaptable to a broad array of applications, industries, and geographic distributions. This underscores the significant challenges the market will continue to encounter with interoperability, scaling, and maintenance. Add in data privacy, security requirements , and best practices over a global set of jurisdictions and business models, and the plot thickens considerably.


As of the time of this article, most industries are still in the very early stages of a transition to IoT. For some businesses and institutions, the transition may be very modest, slow or incremental. For others, such as the Manufacturing and Transportation sectors, the benefits of developing an IoT strategy including a concerted retrofitting of assets and infrastructure may have a very compelling business case.

Transitioning and integrating IoT on the industrial scale is truly a significant and complex undertaking, and is by no means standardized. In cases where new smart factories or facilities are built, it makes a lot of sense to equip the production floor with a new generation of smart devices and components ready to interact with the internet. However in most cases, existing legacy assets are perfectly functional, but may not be IoT enabled. In this scenario, it seems wasteful and risky to decommission an otherwise valuable and working asset if all it needs is a modest upgrade for monitoring and control over the Internet. NetBurner has over 20 years specializing in low-cost turnkey products to instantly modernize these legacy assets. Additionally, it is possible to rapidly build and deploy cutting-edge IoT products and systems with our robust embedded systems on modules and development tools.  

Smart Factories and Manufacturing using IoT

Smart Manufacturing

In almost any list of the leading industries in IoT, you will find that Manufacturing places in the upper tiers of those sectors responsible for growth in global IoT market value. Smart manufacturing might just be the top-dog of the “Industry 4.0” pack with some forecasts showing market value of $548.14 billion by 2024 [4-0]. Whether we are talking about factories making the widgets and products we all love or industrial plants producing essential refined materials and commodities the addition of IoT is revolutionary. Smart manufacturing is being introduced to streamline and automate manufacturing, improve asset tracking, and proactively maintain equipment so as to boost operational efficiencies and increase the safety of workplaces and facilities. Many of the benefits we see in smart manufacturing also extend to other industries, such as energy and transportation which we’ll cover later in this series.

Value Proposition

In the realm of smart manufacturing and Industrial IoT (IIoT), physical machinery including everything from robots through conveyor belts and sensors are connected to a network where they can be controlled and monitored remotely. A wide array of sensor data such as temperature, vibration, or humidity can be aggregated and analyzed holistically to regulate operations even on a distributed, global scale. Not just for moment-by-moment automation and control, these data are also being used to plot trends and predict enhancements to processes, find bottlenecks or troubleshoot failures. Furthermore, with the appropriate connected sensors, certain equipment can be monitored for health and proactively repaired before failures or unplanned downtime occur. [4] A report by Accenture states that IoT has the potential to save up to 12% in schedule repair costs and reduce overall maintenance costs by 30% thus resulting 70% fewer equipment breakdowns. [5] Talk about an enticing value proposition for IoT!

Leveraging Data

Using additional 3rd party data sources, such as local weather data or shipping and logistics schedules and customer ordering systems, smart manufacturing can further enhance production efficiency and allow for optimized process timing and staging, maintenance, and inventory management. Artificial Intelligence (AI) or machine learning can also be used to dynamically tune production based on sensor data and business logic. IoT’s convergence with the latest in big data analytics and AI is likely to benefit manufacturing and many other industries by making them more agile, transparent, optimized and proactive. [6]

IoT may be even more disruptive and beneficial for manufacturing operations that incorporate supplies from a distributed or global network where accurately predicting inputs and outputs can yield greater return on investment. The ramping and speed of manufacturing can be dynamically adjusted based on data and sensor readings along the production line or within the supply-chain. An integrated smart manufacturing infrastructure gives greater visibility of the end-to-end process and with greater responsiveness than strictly human-in-the-loop reporting systems.


Another vital and very typical application in smart manufacturing is the use of IoT to improve the safety of workers and assets. Sensors measuring work areas for noxious or explosive gases, smoke or fire, noise, or open safety locks and access points can be monitored and measured for critical threshold conditions. System level software reads these inputs frequently and is programmed to turn on or off a section of an automated production line, trigger alarms, lockout systems or to deploy other safety measures. Health checks and audits of safety systems can also be performed more systematically, and in many cases, remotely. Weather data can even be factored in to support a proactive and controlled shutdown sequence before a major natural event reaches some element of operations.

The Big Picture

Traditional PLC (Programmable Logic Controllers) and SCADA (Supervisory Control And Data Acquisition) systems have been widely used for process control and safety for decades, but tend to be localized and oftentimes are not connected to the Internet. In the Smart Manufacturing IoT paradigm, those systems are just a part of a more holistic IoT framework. Cloud, Fog and Edge computing will also play a pivotal role, particularly in larger-scale and distributed operations, not only in controlling and optimizing production and safety systems but also in measuring KPIs and realizing business-specific objectives.

Smart Manufacturing Examples

Here’s a couple interesting examples in Smart Manufacturing:

  • For production level quality control (QC) LG Electronics has decided to employ and IoT edge computing solution to reduce throughput and increase accuracy which is a double win. Due to their QC process using high frame rate video for quality measurements it was not viable to use a cloud processing solution. By using edge processing in their IoT architecture they were able to decrease latency and manpower while significantly increasing process fault detection from 50% to 99.9%. The overall impact yielded a savings of $20 million per year! [7]
  • Airbus, a giant in aerospace, has used IoT for smart manufacturing in a number of ways. One element that differentiates them is their very complex assemblies which depend on high numbers of skilled human labor assisted by robots. IoT helps workers to align thousands of specs, procedures, assemblies and specialized tools. Airbus, as an example, uses IoT to allow workers to scan a section of a aircraft work surface with a tablet and then uses image recognition to identify the bolt hole, calls out the specified tool or robot to use, provides the build of materials, torque or other application procedures. [8]
  • The cyber-physical road warriors at Tesla are combining IoT with “digital twins” for each car. Using the multitude of real-time vehicle sensors factories can better monitor for faults and defects in finished products. In addition to providing preventative maintenance alerts for car owners, this data allows factories to dynamically optimize the production lines to fix those issues for the subsequent builds and to improve product designs moving forward. [9]

Until Next Time…

That’s all for our first IoT in Industry Spotlight. Next time we’ll take a look at the Energy sector and cover oil and gas, smart grids, and renewable energy. If you have anything to add from your experience in how IoT adds value to the smart manufacturing industry please comment below!

Cover photo: @skyestudios

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