Industrial IoT is making headlines for its potential to improve the way organizations operate in many domains. Engineers and managers in a number of industries are exploring ways to boost efficiency with IoT systems. In addition to improving food safety and manufacturing efficiency, IoT is powering smart city efforts to optimize municipal fleet efficiency and water management, smart dairy farms that use IoT wearables to increase milk production, and remote patient-monitoring equipment to help people and their healthcare providers better manage serious chronic medical conditions.
The key to all these processes is data collection enabled by IoT devices.
But how, exactly, does IIoT implementation and data collection lead to gains in efficiency? For manufacturers, a key performance indicator related to efficiency is Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). OEE is a manufacturing-specific calculation, but its principles can be adapted to other sectors to identify areas where efficiency gains are possible—as long as there’s a way to implement IIoT data collection and analysis.
Greater efficiency requires better data
Before managers can make any process more efficient, they need benchmark data. To find the OEE of their line equipment, manufacturers use a formula: Availability x Performance x Quality. Availability is the ratio of actual run time to planned production time. Performance compares actual cycle time to ideal cycle time. And Quality is the ratio of in-spec finished products to total finished products.
It’s not necessary to use real-time data to calculate OEE—the OEE equation was developed in the 1960s, well before wifi-sensor networks and cloud computing were on the horizon. But real-time data provides a clearer and more detailed OEE picture. For example, managers can identify seasonal, weekly or daily fluctuations in equipment effectiveness with ongoing data collection and analysis.
Collecting equipment data is easier than it’s ever been, because we now have access to wifi-connected temperature monitors, vibration sensors and other remote sensors that can deliver their data to an IoT-monitoring platform for managers to review and analyze. Because sensors are no longer tethered to wired systems and can be small enough for wearables and stick-on devices, data collection for OEE and efficiency monitoring is no longer confined to the manufacturing plant. Any organization that uses IIoT monitors on its equipment can track effectiveness by collecting and analyzing availability, performance and quality data.
More data creates more opportunities for efficiency gains
OEE enables managers to benchmark effectiveness, track changes over time, and determine whether it’s cost effective to add, replace or repair equipment. Those capabilities alone can reduce costs, increase efficiency, and give producers a real advantage over competitors that don’t continuously collect data. But there are other benefits to IIoT data collection systems, too.
Real-time alerts based on sensor reports can help minimize or avoid production problems. When a piece of equipment is malfunctioning, or a crate of dairy products reaches a temperature outside the safe zone, instant alerts based on sensor data can minimize stoppage or slowdowns and flag compromised products for removal. Reviewing the data leading up to the problem can also help identify what went wrong and find ways to prevent a recurrence. Predictive maintenance is also enabled by real-time data, to determine when a machine will need service or may fail and require replacement.
Once there’s a database of sensor data to work with, analytics can show patterns related to effectiveness, causes for slowdowns or malfunctions, peak operating conditions, and other process-related issues. Analyzing IIoT-collected data along with other datasets creates more efficiency-gain possibilities. For example, the Toronto-area city of Markham has a smart-city research partnership in place that includes storm-drain monitoring for flood-risk assessment plus environmental-temperature and humidity monitoring to help optimize operations planning. In agriculture, wearable monitors help cattle farmers breed their livestock at the right time and detect health problems early to maximize productivity and revenue.
Even if IIoT-driven OEE and other efficiency practices increased operational effectiveness and did nothing else, that would still deliver a huge benefit to manufacturers by saving money, resources and time while delivering more and better-quality products. But data-driven effectiveness and efficiency improvements can have an impact far beyond the plant, pasture or hospital: better quality of life for city dwellers, more efficient use of taxpayer funds by government agencies, healthier patients and more food for a growing world.
It all starts with the data that the IIoT enables us to collect and analyze to get the most from equipment, processes and resources.
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