Skip to main content

The Internet of Things and the next industrial revolution

For those yet to take advantage, Industry 4.0 may seem like an esoteric concept. It can often conjure visions of intelligent robots working away in futuristic factories. However, in reality, Industry 4.0 is already here. Research carried out by the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) and commissioned by Wipro in 2014 entitled "Manufacturing and the Data Conundrum – Too much? Too little? Or just right?" confirmed this. It showed for example that almost half of all manufacturers understood the value of shop floor data produced by connected devices – a key tenet of this 4th Industrial Revolution.

These industry leaders are making use of connected devices and data in all manner of ways including increasing shop fl­oor efficiency, reducing waste, impacting quality, re-engineering their supply chains, and improving warehousing, shipment and logistics.

What does this actually look like in practice?

Manufacturers in the defence industry are using data and sensors to take quality assurance to new levels. For example, an equipment manufacturing plan might state that a screw on a product on the assembly line must be tightened a certain number of times. If it is turned too many times, it is flagged as an anomaly and signalled for rectification. Small improvements such as this, implemented across the board, can have dramatic improvements on long-term quality, and reduce costs when it comes to repairs, recalls and warranties.

Elsewhere, it is well known that oil and gas companies operate in extreme environments and, traditionally, this has hampered industry efforts for maximum efficiency and productivity. The Internet of Things is helping to change that. A good example of this is the use of data for preventive maintenance - and the returns are forecasted to be huge. Electrical submersible pumps (ESPs) which bring oil from underground wellbores to the surface can sometimes be prone to breakdown. Now, real-time monitoring and analysis of data from the ESPs can help these oil companies better understand the condition of these pumps and the wellbores.

In turn this allows them to carry out preventive maintenance before a problem arises, preventing downtime and improving asset performance. In fact, a one per cent improvement in the performance of all ESPs currently in use around the world could deliver over half a million additional barrels of oil each day. At US$100 per barrel, that translates to over US$50 million a day, which represents efficiency gains on an incredible scale.

In pharmaceuticals, the use of connected devices and advanced data analytics is helping the industry move away from the use of humans and animals and towards a scenario where all testing is done in a smart lab. IoT-based smart devices—such as the much vaunted “Organ on a Chip” - replicate the behaviour of real organs during medical testing and allow organisations to run real-life diagnostics scenarios. This drastically reduces R&D costs by running rapid trials and multi-stage diagnostics that cut clinical development costs through faster subject screening and analysis using sensors, and supply chain costs by reducing operations and maintenance costs.

How do you get on board with Industry 4.0?

To fully take advantage of Industry 4.0, it is first necessary to identify equipment and processes that generate valuable data and set your network up at the very point where this data is being generated. In other words, where is the tip of your data?

Next you have to consider the format of the data – is it structured, unstructured or semi-structured? Can your network transmit the data coming in from - and being sent to - millions of devices? Can your data management system ingest the growing data?

Once those questions have been answered, you can put the data to practically any use, limited only by imagination, and start to fully experience the benefits that this new industrial revolution can offer.

Narendra Ghate, Senior Manager Data Platform Engineering Practice, Wipro