Perhaps you’ve heard of the Nest thermostat system, or Google’s Glass? Almost everyone has heard news of the Apple fitness watch, and wearable tech is becoming more real by the day. More companies are exploring these fields, taking baby steps into the interconnected Internet of Things. In this new era, devices will help us connect to each other, and to our homes and our work places. We may soon wear the technology we use to work and live.
One of the places where these changes already occur is in the manufacturing sectors. To understand how these changes may affect consumers in the future, we need to look at what is being produced and how production has changed.
The World Connected
The consumer side of the Internet of Things is simple to explain. The goal is one central device that you could use to interact with others around you. Your cell phone, for example, already acts as a remote for garage doors and sound systems in the home. The Internet of Things utilizes the increasing amount of connectivity present in the world to help users interact with objects around them with greater freedom and precision.
Of course, these changes don’t occur in a day and require an immense amount of computing power to be done at scale.
Some of the easiest places to see change toward a connected manufacturing plant, is to look at the process of automation. Automation seems like machines doing simple tasks, but there are complex equations and functions working behind the scenes. Industrial PC boards equipped with multiple processors run around the clock to process these transactions, sometimes using distributed computing to manage larger operations. All of this computing power helps accomplish these repetitive tasks, including monitoring objects at a microscopic level.
The amount of computing power available to a producer will directly affect how fast they can ship products. In the future, the size of your server room will mean more than the size of your warehouse in some respects. That’s because shipping now relies on the transfer of data. Invoices are all done digitally, with information relayed digitally, and processing handled by personnel using interconnected devices. This technology enables consumers to track packages, receiving alerts up-to-the-minute regarding where their package may be. For manufacturers, this also means a greater control over the shipping process and a reduced chance of financial loss.
In the vegetable business, the “cold chain” is crucial to maintaining a healthy product for markets. If the cold chain is broken for any extended period of time, crops will rot and cost the grower money. Advances in the world of connected devices have enabled manufacturers to track their own stock. Packages can now be diverted, and manufacturers can even establish virtual offices where they can ship internationally. An increased availability of technology also drives cheaper labor throughout the world, which impacts areas outside of manufacturing but still directly related to it.
Automation and an interconnected world seem like scary prospects, but they shouldn’t be. We live in an exciting time where companies are capable of producing and shipping more products than ever before. By the year 2020, almost 28 billion “things” will be connected, from the consumer level all the way up to production and management.
The use cases we see today are defining the success of these devices tomorrow. The future will also need skilled laborers capable of maintaining these processes and managing these machines. Right now, we see the scales tipping toward those producing this automation technology, but the benefits will begin to trickle down as products become cheaper to produce and labor gains focus on productivity.