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Why the Internet of Things (IoT) Needs to Extend to Your Plant Floor

Mark Gallant, Industrial Marketing, AeroScout Industrial
Mark Gallant, Industrial Marketing, AeroScout Industrial

Mark Gallant, Industrial Marketing, AeroScout Industrial

One of the key benefits of the IoT is extending communication with far more types of devices than ever before. For industrial applications, that means improving processes and cutting costs. But how do you extend connectivity to things that aren’t naturally networkable? There’s no Internet connection on a forklift, a special work-piece, holding fixture, or ladder. That’s where Active RFID comes in. By simply attaching an active RFID ‘tag’ to any non-networked device allows it to communicate over your existing Wi-Fi networks and lets you know its location, condition and status in your complex manufacturing environment. These devices are simple to deploy and provide the tools to allow any smart (or dumb devices) to cost effectively and quickly become part of the IoT. The Industrial IoT increases the speed of manufacturing and reduces labor costs by giving the ability to monitor high-value and high-impact assets:

• Location: Where is that special fixture or bin of parts? Where’s the cart of raw material for this job? Where is that critical tool or mobile tool cart?
• Condition: This skid of paint will be ruined if it freezes. How long did it sit on the unheated dock? How many hours has the fork truck run this month? Is the critical freezer maintaining the temperature set points?
• Status: Is the forklift battery charged? How many people are in the warehouse right now? What is the production flow? Are all production lines operating?

Active RFID tags and location based services solutions help you answer these kinds of questions quickly, easily, and cost effectively.

The Evolving Wireless Infrastructure

One of the greatest benefits of the IoT has been its ability to standardize and commoditize technologies. A few years ago, creating a new application to track goods or people would have involved system integrators and special programming. Today’s commercially available technologies are available out of a box from a number of leading suppliers. Active RFID Tags for many purposes can be picked out of the catalog along with application interfaces for easy integration with existing Wi-Fi networks and other systems. Basic monitoring and reporting software can be configured in minutes via drag-and-drop.

Consider how wireless Ethernet infrastructure and its applications have evolved in your plant.

• 10 years ago—Basic Wi-Fi to support a laptop or two on the shop floor
• 5 years ago—A growing population of laptops, embedded devices and sensor clusters called for more extensive Wi-Fi coverage and bandwidth. Plus a new thing called remote access.
• 3 years ago—Bandwidth continues to expand to include smart phones, more tablet computers, and a growing population of sensors, any of which can be accessed from anywhere, anytime of the day.
• Today—The number of devices, both carried by humans and embedded in important assets, has grown exponentially from what it was a decade ago. How did we manage operations efficiently before?

A Real-Life IoT Success Story—Managing Manufacturing Complexity

Stanley Black & Decker, an S&P 500 company, is a diversified global provider of hand tools, power tools and related accessories, mechanical access and electronic security solutions, healthcare solutions, engineered fastening systems, and more. The company operates one of its largest tool manufacturing plants in Reynosa, Mexico. The 500,000 sq ft facility manufactures professional quality power tools under the DEWALT and Porter-Cable brands. These tools include drills, palm sanders, routers, saws, etc. There are approximately 50 high volume manufacturing lines in the plant.

While the plant has been optimized, it was not able to measure line flow rates for completed parts at the end of the assembly line prior to the IoT project. The project uses Active RFID Wi-Fi tags, enterprise software, and business intelligence dashboards to measure, record, analyze and improve the line flow rates in real-time. Implementing new technology can often be a very challenging task, so the project team engaged the site and corporate IT teams to assist and support.

“One of the greatest benefits of the IoT has been its ability to standardize and commoditize technologies”

“We executed the project implementation in just a few weeks, implementing seamlessly with our existing Wi-Fi technology and IT systems” noted Gary Fredrick Global VP & CIO Stanley Black & Decker’s Industrial Automotive & Repair (IAR) business.

The Active RFID tags, which connect throughout five inventory lines, track production as it happens. This information is viewed on dashboards to provide visibility to the manufacturing processes, enabling supervisors to make immediate decisions based on real-time data and notifications. Before the IoT project, they used historical data analyzed at the end of the shift or days later. Now, they receive immediate alerts for production disturbances. As a result, the system notifies the supervisors to investigate problems and affect a resolution.

Four weeks after starting the pilot project, the Reynosa plant measured:

• Increased throughput by approximately 10 percent
• Labor utilization improved from 80 percent to 92 percent
• Faster decision making because of immediate notifications of any issues
• Visibility for the line managers to immediately react to line issues

How else can the Industrial IoT save businesses money?

Active RFID tags can monitor the location, condition and status of high-value or high-impact assets located throughout your facility. Where is the fork lift parked and is its battery charged? How warm did that resin get when it sat outside? Did a plant visitor wander into a restricted area? Now you can pinpoint these items quickly along with their condition. How do you handle these functions now, and how much does it cost?

There are many day-to-day costs that impact your profitability which you ignore because there is no practical way to track them. Implementing an Industrial IoT project has never been easier and those that do will drive immediate and measureable results for their companies.

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