The Impact of IIoT on Quality

By David Wilt, Manufacturing Consultant, InSource Solutions

Few would debate that manufacturing quality has improved over the past 15-20 years. Has IIoT (Industrial Internet of Things) made a difference?  When compared to the “old” days, what can we do now that we couldn’t before? How has IIoT impacted the way we can do things?  What makes it better?

Definition:  IIot (Industrial Internet of Things) encompasses ubiquitous wireless communication, real-time analytics, machine learning, commodity sensors, and embedded systems. This means that the traditional fields of embedded systems, wireless sensor networks, control systems, automation (including home and building automation), and others all contribute to enabling the Industrial Internet of things. Wigmore, I. (June 2014). “Internet of Things (IoT)”. TechTarget

I will briefly answer my initial inquiry pointing out several instances where the IIoT has had a positive impact in manufacturing quality, especially by maximizing resources at every level while increasing customer satisfaction.

Long before the IIoT was a “thing”, manufacturer’s quality was highly dependent on human activities. Over the past 20 years, the human activities have not gone away, rather they have been strengthened by the seamless connectivity of software applications, mechanical/electrical sensors and transmitting devices, in most cases, on premise. These human dependent systems such as predictive maintenance and preventive maintenance solutions have been utilized for years to keep quality levels acceptable. But with the advent of new technologies, truly reliable equipment can become a reality that ensures predictable/ steady state production outputs. RCM (Reliability Centered Maintenance) will lead to increases in cost effectiveness, reliability, machine up-time, and a greater real-time understanding of the level of risk that the organization is managing. You can learn more by examining the technical standard SAE JA1011, Evaluation Criteria for RCM Processes. (Article 5277).  Although RCM is a good thing it works exponentially better once you incorporate as much IIoT as you can afford. The sooner we shift the work load and decision making more into the hands of the systems the sooner a manufacturing plant can see tangible results.

But really, what can we do now that we couldn’t do before? IIoT being applied at today’s manufacturers can fine tune machine performance through better and more thorough identification of operating parameters e.g. temperatures, pressures, cycles, tolerance changes, total life expectancies, etc. Although many of these parameters have been checked in the past it was often done through a manual process. Current technology allows us to know the most recent data and history, enabling auto-generated alerts and reminders for maintenance items. Past days required the classic art/science skills and today the science powers the art!

The internet has made the inter-connectivity of man-made objects more and more commonplace. Consumer electronics now integrate Wi-Fi connectivity to tell owners that their washing machine is doing a load of clothes or that the house has an uninvited guest; the list can be quite extensive.   In the manufacturing space whole plants are interconnected, without the internet, informing the various operations the status of production and where the products are located.  Once the consumer good reached the consumer, quality tracking was lost, just at the point it mattered most.  For most of the history of creating consumer goods, it was a crap shoot as to how long one could expect a part to operate correctly before it fell below its expectation. Eventually a history of reliability was built and reasonable life expectancies could be assumed. Now with the advent of IIoT we can extend the supply chain and see the quality of the final good’s genealogy.  Now knowing how an item was made to how well it performed can really hone in on keeping a pulse on the demands of the customer while keeping the manufacturers competitive in the marketplace.