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Digitalization is really starting to shape how things are done outside the factory, and IoT is a key part.According to Bain Capital, $520 billion will be spent on IoT by 2021. Trends like autonomous navigation and electrification should have a meaningful, long-term impact for business. IoT is a key enabler for these trends. Here’s what I mean: These trends are interconnected because digitalization enables many areas of technological and business development.
Consider, for example, BIM (or building information modeling), which, according to Wikipedia, comprises “technologies involving the generation and management of digital representations of physical and functional characteristics of places.” BIM drives design digitalization, automation and robotics through connectivity and data. Digitalization in its different forms enables simulation, too, which expedites the understanding and evaluation of different options. In turn, designers and managers can achieve a better, faster result, which optimizes cost. As managers avail themselves of data for things like project management, there is an increase in transparency; decision-makers can pretty much see real-time developments. For digitalization to be of value, though, the processes it underpins have to become better, faster and less expensive for companies. Two challenges with digitalization for managers and employees alike are:1) proving business value, and 2) determining who owns the data that systems collect.
As computer chips linked to the internet become part of the fabric of our lives, data also becomes ubiquitous. But who owns the data? And with all the data we are collecting, what portion is truly valuable? Determining these answers are important considerations when adopting IoT, or digitalization technology. In the meantime, technology has become increasingly less expensive, while its capabilities grow exponentially. For example, an article from the September 14, 2019, edition of The Economist notes “The price of computation today is roughly one hundred-millionth what it was in the 1970s.” Clearly, technology is attractive as both a tool and an investment. Here are some examples of the growing adoption of digitalization beyond the factory floor.
Data enabled by autonomous navigation
As we develop equipment capable of executing tasks autonomously or controlled remotely, sensors enable this to happen. For autonomous equipment, especially when designed to work without GPS, engineers must implement an array of sensors for the equipment to operate safely and reliably. What we are learning is that in many cases the sensor data alone can be of great value, in some cases the data from the sensors is more valuable than the equipment’s autonomous capabilities.
Picking blossoms, not apples
In the agricultural sector, we’re now working on machines (via autonomous navigation) that move in and around apple orchards during day or night. With AI, these machines are able to recognize the condition of apple blossoms and upload that data to the cloud. By making use of “edge-computing,” (e.g., assessing the condition of blossoms in real-time and using a set of motion-stabilized nozzles on the machine to spray and kill less than quality blooms), growers can manage the health of their orchard, fertilizer needs and yield per tree to the optimum number of 65 blossoms. By knowing exactly which blossoms to kill, a grower can even reduce the use of chemicals. With data from a machine’s camera, infrared sensors, LiDAR and radar, growers can improve their quality and yield well before the stage of picking apples. Overlaying this data is the use of AIto help a machine make decisions about when and where to move as well as how to interact with the fruit to continuously and best identify and manage hundreds of thousands of objects in the orchard, which would have been the work of experienced people combing the orchard. In fact, this is where equipment connectivity starts to make economic sense.
Data helps builders construct a real-time picture of progress
While many architects and engineers digitally design buildings and even manage construction projects this way, there is rarely a “closed loop,” or digital feedback, for builders. Designers and builders could greatly benefit from real-time data related to the construction quality and tolerances accomplished after each day’s work. As construction happened, a “data rover” inside the building could continuously collect data on progress after the last shift of the day and upload that information for engineers, architects and contractors. That data could inform the next day, week or phase of building. With this information, construction superintendents could optimize the next day’s operations and zero in on any corrections to align the as-built situation with its plan. This could also benefit maintenance and future renovation. Imagine knowing the location, within a fraction of an inch, of conduits, HVAC and support structures in floors and walls before beginning a project.
“Closing the loop” when managing work sites
As the size and complexity of a construction project grows, keeping tabs on the location and amount of material, equipment, people and progress becomes difficult. However, putting a digital plan into the hands of a construction manager or builder enables these professionals to schedule workers, stage equipment and order material days or even weeks in advance of need. Think of the value in combining site data with weather information to schedule the pouring of concrete floors, foundations or curb and gutter, in ideal time. With worksite management data at a construction manager’s fingertips, the site boss can better route vehicles, schedule shifts, take equipment offline for maintenance and generally plan ahead. When conditions on the site change, knowing where different assets are (and what their status is)means managers can minimize problems and capitalize on optimal situations. The building process becomes more efficient, we believe in some cases this could compress the timeline for completing a project by 10 to 15 percent. Making this happen is simply a matter of “closing the loop” in terms of awareness about assets, conditions, and plans via the connectivity that comes from an outside-the-factory IoT solution.
Electrification enables users of networked equipment to make quick, data-based decisions
The electrification of many types of equipment is increasing due to environmental requirements and working conditions. This reduces operational costs. It is a requirement for many of these electric machines include digital electronics and software as well as several sensors. With a lot of sensors built in, it enables managers to use the data for more analytics and system information. This is why electrification is making it easier to have connected devices with plenty of information and limited additional cost. By hooking a system to the cloud, business owners can make many data-driven decisions and improvements. Of course, business owners also need tools that complement the use of sensor-enabled data. For example, a manager can use data collected from sensors to manage machine use, evaluate operator efficiency and even tune the machine online for maximum output or schedule maintenance.
Trends, many of them are interrelated concerning use of IoT or digitalization
Autonomous navigation, electrification and digitalization are driving a connected world. The possibilities are far-reaching for cost reduction, sustainability efforts and safety; business owners and equipment makers owe it to their shareholders and customers to determine how to use and deploy data to create value now and into the future.