Heavy industry gets a bad rap sometimes.
People think of industries like manufacturing, automotive, natural resources, trucking, and logistics as old-school.
But heavy industry is actually fertile ground when it comes to turning shiny tech objects into ROI-producing powerhouses.
Perhaps the biggest area of opportunity is with the Internet of Things (IoT)—a series of connected devices that collect data, report information, and control functions. You may have heard this idea discussed as Industry 4.0.
Lots of corporations in the heavy industry space are finding applications for Industry 4.0 in their businesses. Given the advances in this technology, the IoT future is now for your company as well.
But before you can reap the benefits of the Internet of Things, you may need to overcome one or more hurdles to adopting IoT technology.
We call these hurdles, and not roadblocks, because these are not insurmountable challenges. Instead, they are realities that your business will need to adjust to in order to fully capitalize on IoT technology.
Here are four hurdles to jump if you want your company to win the IoT race.
1. Data Structures
IoT sensors are powerful tools for your business, because they dramatically expand your capability to understand it. You can get data from equipment, trucks, and even people automatically.
Sounds great, right?
It is great—as long as you can put the data you collect to work for you. To make sense of this massive amount of new data, you need to make sure your data is structured correctly.
Ideally, your business will do data architecture before the first IoT sensor is installed. But that may not be real life. We heard a presentation from one railroad company that was combining data from IoT sensors, older connected sensors, and even handwritten reports into actionable data. That adds complexity to the need for good data structures, but it’s just as essential.
If you have both new IoT-collected data and legacy data, you will still want to start with a good data structure for the new data. Then you can figure out how to integrate older data with the new data. If you just drop all of the sensor data into old data structures, you will run into issues with database sizes and reporting. It’s far better to restructure all of your data under the new architecture in order to benefit the most over the long term.
Approaching the challenge this way will ensure that your data will be in good shape. And when your data is structured well, it will be far easier for your company to benefit from it. So make sure to clear this hurdle at the beginning of your Industry 4.0 initiative.
2. Sensor Reception
Another challenge you will need to face in implementing IoT technology is making sure that your sensors and controllers stay connected to your network, software, and technology stack. This is important, and it may not be as easy as you think.
You’ll need to consider what kind of connection you need—bluetooth, cell network, wifi, or a combination. Make sure to check access in your real-world setting. Anyone with a smartphone knows how different areas of buildings and towns get different levels of reliable reception.
If your sensors ever move, this is an even more important factor. We’re currently working in the forestry industry on a project that tracks the movement of trucks from the woods to the mill. We quickly found that we had to have a plan for when the sensors drop reception, because they are going to encounter this problem frequently in the rural areas where they usually work. Our solution was to do several rounds of prototyping to ensure that the sensors will work in providing relevant, real-time data.
3. Sensor Security
So you’ve got your sensors connected. Great. Now you have to make sure that anyone and everyone can’t connect to them. Security is a major concern—especially since the early generation of connected devices failed to take basic security precautions. This is especially true of smart-home type consumer devices that were rushed to market without security as a main concern.
As a result, hackers have used connected devices as an attack vector to try to penetrate network. This story of a casino being attacked through a smart fish tank is just one example.
Don’t let your business go glub, glub. Ensure that your connected devices are secure, so that the rest of your network stands strong against cyberattacks.
4. Workforce Skepticism
The first three hurdles on this list are technological. But any executive worth her salt knows that technology is only part of the equation. The other part is the users who are affected by technology.
What some executives overlook is the fact that user experience is just as important with connected devices as it is with computer software. But it remains vital.
Here are some scenarios that show how employee buy-in is vital to Industry 4.0 success:
* You want to use sensors to find needed repairs to machines, and show employees how to make the repairs through wearable glasses. To make this work, you have to teach employees how to use the glasses, and convince them that this way of working is going to be better for them in the long run.
* You want to record employee arm movements with a wearable sensor to ensure that they are working in a way that will make them more efficient and help them avoid repetitive-motion injury. Again, getting employees to actually wear the devices to make this plan work.
* You want to know where your trucks are at all times, so you install sensors. We have learned the hard way on our forestry project that truckers don’t like being tracked, and may actually disconnect sensors on their own to make sure that their bosses don’t know where they are at all times (or how fast they’re driving).
You need to show users why your Industry 4.0 project will benefit them—by making their jobs easier, or making the company successful (which will result in greater job security, benefits, or whatever). Make sure they are comfortable with this new technology and understand how you are thinking about their privacy as much as their work.
None of these four hurdles is insurmountable. That’s great news, because it means that your heavy industry business can realistically reap the benefits of the Internet of Things. Just make sure that you use good technique to clear the hurdles so that you can reach the finish line of your Industry 4.0 project in style.