21

Jan

IoT in a brave new world

The Internet of Things (IoT) isn’t a new concept. We’ve been capturing data from machines for years and data scientists have been trying to turn it into something valuable. But with the advent of Microsoft’s IoT toolsets and some of the emerging technologies from device manufacturers, we can now access data from more machines in a way that’s faster and far easier. More importantly, once we have access to the data, we can use Microsoft’s data analytics platforms to gain the insights we need.

I remember capturing sensor data from programmable logic controllers (PLCs) on large, high volume melamine manufacturing lines 20 years ago in an attempt to improve throughput and reduce waste. At the time, teams of engineers tinkered with settings on the lines to change the speed of the materials being processed, the heights of the rollers and even the temperature of materials and the quantities and combinations of resins used. Looking back to that time, it was clear that the engineers didn’t buy into the importance or problem solving ability of the data. Sure, they took random records at various parts of the line, but they weren’t consistent and operators often got their attention turned to more urgent matters. 

When we started reading the sensors and other machine settings every few seconds, the game completely changed. We could see hidden patterns in the data that the engineers didn’t think to look for. To cut a long story short, we ended up reducing waste significantly. The changes we made to the materials being used and the settings used on the production lines improved production throughput considerably. This wasn’t rocket science, but it did prove the value of data! 

Using hypothesis testing we were able to hone in on which variables which really made the difference in reducing waste. The data also contradicted many of the myths that were, until now, seen as core truths by some of the engineers. The temperature of the factory, for example, had nothing to do with wastage – what really made the difference was the speed at which the machines were loaded with product and the pressure of the presses. We are also able to use the data and, by changing key variables, predict production output and waste by running simulations. This was particularly important because we could run experiments without doing it on the real production lines. 

I wish that back then we had the technology that we do today. Things would have been faster and outcomes better. Microsoft’s answer to the IoT is exciting for our industry. Not only does it allow us to read data from devices like those that are on production lines, but it does so relatively easily. More exciting is that once we have the data, we are now able to store it. Most importantly, we can analyse it using Microsoft’s Analytics tools that are now at the high end of the market. We can do so without buying expensive IT hardware and software; we can buy it as a service.

Empired have deep expertise in tapping into devices and extracting data that is on senses. Whether this is a manufacturing line, a mine or a construction site, we can capture this data, mine it and uncover the insights that will help you transform your business. There is also great value to be had for retail and distribution, with the ability to track where key assets and equipment are at any point in time, and whether they are functioning properly or may be in need of preventive maintenance. 

If you’ve enjoyed this article and want to have an exploratory conversation about how IoT and Data Insights could be of use to your business, feel free to reach out to Empired.

Posted by: Ben Johnson, National Business Manager, Data Insights  | 21 January 2016

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