7 Extraordinary Uses of Industrial Connected Devices

The Internet of Things is transforming the way industry works. These seven ways other companies are innovating will help you imagine the path forward for your company.


By Dan Rundle

By 2020, industrial IoT applications will generate about $85 billion in revenue, according to management consulting firm Bain & Company. The firm also predicts that B2B applications of IoT will generate upward of $300 billion.

From smart agriculture and supply chain management to predictive maintenance and quality control, connected devices have changed not only the way we manage business applications, but also the way we compete in the marketplace.

Industrial IoT has made huge strides in the last few years, and we expect to see even more impactful applications hitting the market over the next decade. One of the keys to seeing significant ROI on an innovation is nurturing the creative vision to imagine what’s possible.

To whet your appetite, here are some of the most extraordinary applications of connected devices we’ve seen.

Logging Industry: Waste Reduction

Logging companies get paid by the load, so the faster they can turn around a shipment, the more profitable they are. But how can they know which sawmills are backlogged (so to speak) and which ones are ready for a new shipment? Waiting hours for the truck to be unloaded cuts into profit, so companies need a way to send their trucks to the sawmill where they will have the shortest wait time.

Worthwhile brainstormed with logging industry leaders about how to collect the data needed. We started with building GPS trackers to monitor trucking distances and idle times, and we integrated the solution with top GPS telematics providers. With no direct access to sawmill data, local logging companies worked together to crowdsource data and share information.

Connected trucks, GPS trackers, and shared data give logging companies the information they need to send products to specific locations at the right time for the fastest turnaround. It’s like Waze for Loggers. The data helps reduce wasted trips and fuel, leaves fewer trucks idling at the sawmill, and reduces carbon emissions.

Luxury Carmaker: Early Warning System to Stop Recalls

Automotive manufacturing also holds huge potential for data and IoT applications. One of our clients, a luxury automaker, needed a way to anticipate part failures and other issues so they could correct the problems before a recall was issued. Problems like these can be solved with big data analysis, and it doesn’t have to take years to implement. For example, solutions could include new dashboards to visualize data and identify trends or anomalies, and data streams can be integrated into workflow to merge real-time analysis with productivity. Future applications of connected devices could include equipment sensors for predictive maintenance, remote monitoring, and quality control with premium accuracy and response times.

Harley Davidson: Smart Factories

Harley Davidson is at the forefront of innovation for factory automation and connectedness. Their newest smart factories fully digitize every function of plant management, from production and materials sourcing to supply chain management and quality control.

Harley Davidson’s success hinges on the depth of connectedness throughout the plant, starting with integration of business systems with shop floor systems and flowing through production, ecommerce, and maintenance. The smart factory uses autonomous machines that can share data and self-correct, adjusting workflows based on data inputs from other machines and customer orders. This level of digital connection not only allows buyers to customize almost every aspect of their orders, from paint colors to gas tank sizes, but also creates higher visibility of machine performance and enables predictive maintenance and quality.

The result? At one plant, Harley Davidson saw a $200 million reduction in operating costs and a major increase in speed of production, moving from a 21-day production schedule to an impressive six hours.

Airline Industry: Connected Planes

The next time you board a 787, you may be getting on a plane that can “talk” to its engineer. Many airlines have begun developing IoT-connected planes with sensors to monitor just about every part from nose to tail. The planes may produce upward of half a terabyte of data every time they fly. Airlines use that information to monitor the plane’s performance and identify potential maintenance issues.

For example, data generated in-flight can send alerts about maintenance needs before a mechanical problem occurs. Airlines like Virgin Atlantic and Delta already have IoT technology in place, and nearly 40% of airlines are making room for it in their budgets.

IoT also holds potential for airline customers. Using tracking sensors, the technology could help prevent lost luggage, provide real-time flight status updates, and use location technology to help customers find their gates in the airport.

Ocado Supermarket: Warehouse Robots

British supermarket Ocado maintains a trove of more than a thousand robots in its automated warehouse. The robots move across a grid, lifting, sorting, and moving groceries to fill orders and stock the warehouse. The company’s technology can process 3.5 million items every week. That’s the equivalent of 65,000 orders—orders that would take humans much longer to fill.

The robots are more efficient than humans for several reasons. They can work twenty-four hours a day with no need for rest. They can use space more efficiently—no need for aisles so humans can move around. And they are easily scalable. If your operation grows, just add more robots. There is still more work to be done to make the operation even more efficient, however. For example, these robots are not “intelligent.” They cannot make decisions on their own. But because they are controlled by a central computer, they can work together to accomplish tasks more quickly than a single robot working alone could.

Healthcare Industry: Reducing ER Wait Times

Mt. Sinai Medical Center in New York City has implemented IoT software in their emergency room to reduce admission wait times. The software tracks bed occupancy along with a total of 15 metrics like patient gender, nurse proximity, and other patient requirements, helping staff optimize the admission process and maintain over 90% occupancy at any given time.

By analyzing the data, the medical center can care for more patients, speed up the admission process, and support patient safety. The software has helped reduce wait times by over an hour for at least half of the patients waiting for an inpatient bed.

Healthcare Industry: Smart Pills and Pill Bottles

One of the most futuristic applications of IoT in the health industry is a drug management system that uses sensor-enhanced pills to monitor medication dosage and use. The patient wears a sensor-enabled patch placed on their body, which collects data from the sensor in the pill. In addition to tracking when the patient takes the medication, the patch also records things like rest and activity levels, heart rate, and blood pressure. Patients can access the data via an app, and healthcare providers can use the information to develop the most effective treatment plan. 

Another medication management application of IoT sensors is Adhere Tech’s smart pill bottles. The bottles monitor when the patient removes pills or liquid medication, and will send an alert if a dose is missed.

Conclusion

Some of these applications sound like something right out of a Star Trek episode, but reality is sometimes even more exciting than science fiction. The innovations we’re seeing in IoT are creating faster, safer, more productive ways of meeting needs across many industries. By developing more efficient ways of collecting and analyzing data to optimize tasks, IoT can help companies make the most of the people, processes and technology they already use every day.

Dan Rundle
Dan Rundle is Worthwhile’s CEO and lives in Greenville, S.C. He believes clear values are crucial to the success of a company and its customers.
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