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Internet of Things

Introduction to the Internet of Things (IoT)

The Internet of Things (IoT) is a new series of wireless technologies which use modern telecommunications to allow many more objects to share information that people or organisations may be interested in. The IoT is a concept that relates to the increasing tendency for manufacturers to install RFID tags, sensors, actuators and other forms of connectivity into their products. By reading the signals coming from these chips, and by using unique addressing schemes, the devices can interact with each other, and with your network (and others) to reach common goals.

What’s happening in this area right now?

While there are some promising technologies in use, and more in development, the Internet of Things is not a full reality yet, but strong signs point to it being around the corner. Currently RFID tags combined with Electronic Product Codes and Digital Object Identifiers, (or other unique object identifiers), can substantially increase the up-to-the-second information you have available.

Where is this area likely to develop in the future?

The US Government’s National Intelligence Council’s report predicts that by 2025 it is likely that most consumer products will contain their own internet node. It is also likely that these nodes will have their own sensor units, to obtain data that is foreseen to be relevant to the variety of users along the supply chain. With nearly everything having its own internet node, floods of information will be available.

How could the IoT change inventory?

The combination of RFID tags with in-built sensors, and cheap, versatile and reprogrammable readers and the software to run them means that management, workers and customers have the opportunity to access a wider (greater quantity), and deeper (better quality, more relevant) pool of information about what is happening in any organisation. Manufacturers often require large inventories and complicated supply chains. Current technologies typically use barcode scanners or other manual data entry techniques to update automated inventory stock lists. This manual entry creates the possibility of error, and requires regular staff input of data. The data in current systems often reflect information that is days or weeks old, as staff perform tasks when they have available time. IoT offers systems whereby inventory lists are completely automated so that information is available at the click of a mouse or by checking your mobile. RFID tags on each item of inventory would be polled by sensors from the moment you order them from a supplier until you’ve delivered them to a customer. IoT also offers ease of finding items in the shelf as sensor placement and software can allow for a complete map of what is in stock and where it is at any moment.

How could the IoT change management’s perspective?

If IoT is implemented across your workplace, then your staff and managers will have access to more useful and reliable data about their actions than ever before. Lathes, Drill Presses, Conveyer systems and all other aspects of the machinery you use in manufacturing will report live to your in-house network. Similarly, with each inventory item tagged with a RFID tag, the process of manufacture can be mapped, bottlenecks spotted, and efficiencies improved. Tracing back the source of low-quality supplies will be easy. Identifying high-performing staff will be as easy as checking the performance of their duties in the system. If your system shows a staff member taking regular breaks or fails to idle down their machine to perform the regular maintenance checks then you’ll be able to see that. In short IoT systems, once implemented, will give you and your staff a much richer pool of information to draw upon to improve your business, and your working lives.

How can the IoT increase our revenue or enhance the experience of our customers?

Digital Object Identifiers and other forms of unique identifier attached to each RFID chip will allow automated systems to know what is occurring in every aspect of your business, live. Once you have a fully viable IoT system, you’ll have tags on any machine or stock item that is used, and each item will feed relevant information into your network at relevant times (which you will be able to select). This enhanced information can potentially be used to identify workflow bottlenecks – thus increasing efficiency and profit, to detect theft, to establish accountability or chain of custody, and to monitor current work levels, meaning that with the right level of access and a good network, a manager would be able to receive live feeds to a tablet or other device and perform real-time supervision of entire areas thus maintaining a strategic view of the entire manufacturing site rather than only being limited by what is immediately in front of them.

What potential complications are there with the IoT?

The NIC report also states that ‘‘to the extent that everyday objects become information security risks, the IoT could distribute those risks far more widely than the Internet has to date.” If everyday objects are sending out signals that are not encrypted sufficiently, then the information that they provide is available to anyone. Information from a poorly encrypted IoT system could be used by competitors to track what you were doing in your factory – to duplicate your processes, or by people intent on spying on your customers, and the purchases they make.

What other interesting implications does IoT have for us?

Bi (2014) predicts that decision-making is likely to become decentralised. This will occur because people will have access to the information they need (through the information network provided by IoT ) to make the best decisions for their level of responsibility. Because prompt responses to uncertainties require distributed and decentralized enterprise architecture, organisation structure is likely to flatten and job roles become more dynamic. Even simple enterprises will produce massive amounts of data. If every machine, component and storage area provides multiple pieces of information, there will be more individual pieces of information than a person can handle. Good expert systems, and accurate settings of accepted norms will be essential. The average worker will need to be very alert to the sensor feedback that they are receiving, and also to the general supply chain information that the IoT manufacturing system feeds them. Increasing differences: manufacturing faces demands for personalized products, geographical distribution, cultures, suppliers, regulations, optional operations, and standards. Each demand potentially requires different manufacturing equipment, training and staff practices. It will be increasingly vital for manufacturing equipment and staff to be able to reconfigure their systems to adapt to producing different products to suit the varied markets that are available.

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