I occasionally find myself in situations where I have to defend the Internet of Things to a nonbeliever. That person may be a skeptical engineer who sees it all as marketing-speak or an acquaintance who isn’t entrenched into the manufacturing world. I do agree that there’s a degree of the IoT marketing bandwagon—where anything with a sensor attached to it claims to be the end-all. However, my overall argument is that the IoT (and connectivity in general) will continue to change things in the coming decade, and often in ways that we aren’t expecting.
One such case was presented to me at the recent Fluid Power Technology Conference, held on the Milwaukee School of Engineering campus. We’d invited Joe Maher of Danfoss Power Solutions as a keynote speaker. I knew from our phone conversations that Maher would be an engaging, fascinating speaker, but even some of his predictions caught me off guard.
One of his customers had an issue with “leakage” of cement in their cement trucks. Customers were noticing that the amount of cement that got loaded into the transit mixer at the batch plant was considerably more than what ended up at the job site. Maher explained how (in a fictionalized version, to protect the customer) this can happen. In tracking all of the customer’s equipment, they could see how certain trucks didn’t follow the optimized GPS route from the batch plant to the job site. Instead, they detoured into a residential neighborhood. It looks like the operator was stopping at a buddy’s house first … free driveway, anyone?
An interesting solution—other than disciplining the offenders—can be to put a geofence around a desired area. A tie-in is placed between the control system and the server. Basically, there’s a flag in the control program that is tied to the geofence. Now if that flag says true, it will allow that machine to discharge material. On the contrary, if that flag is false, for anything outside of the job site, the control program simply won’t let the operator discharge material.
The IoT has other interesting applications on the job site itself. Maher explained how they can monitor the performance and productivity of individual machines on that job site. There are known average efficiencies for a piece of machinery idling a percentage of the time or being used for a percentage of the time. What if a customer could watch that information on a regular basis and managing her work site accordingly?
Manufacturers are betting that the IoT will be able to give feedback on how the interconnections among components affect performance. That, combined with these bigger job site implications, will truly be a game changer in making industries— from construction to ag to mining—as efficient as possible.