Where to Start with IoT

In our post on Four Ways to Create Value with IoT we discussed at the end the fact that making products better and making better products has a bigger impact on profit. And most companies want the biggest possible impact on profit.

So, – is making better products the place to start? No.

Why? Because it’s a difficult and complicated process. It’s best to start simple and grow into the more complex and impactful benefits of IoT.

It’s easier to wire up equipment with only a few sensors (or use existing sensors) and pull a limited amount of data, and to focus on simpler tasks…improving asset utilization and optimization.

You can start with either improving maintenance or operating your equipment better. This requires less data, less analysis, and smaller changes in the product and company processes and culture, when compared to the amounts of data and company changes required for innovation and invention.

Let’s take an electric motor as an example. Let’s say you manufacture these motors and sell them to customers. It’d be wonderful to start inventing new types of motors. However, you would need a lot of data about all aspects of how the motor is run, the environment in which it’s used, and the customer’s business. You would also need the capability and team to analyze that data to come up with new ideas. That sounds complicated.

Let’s compare that to adding a vibration sensor to the barring housing and a temperature sensor to the body of the motor. We should start by doing this for a single motor in our test or service shop. By adding “slap and stick” sensors retrofitted on to an existing motor, we’re already making the process simpler because we’re not having to reengineer any aspect of the motor.

Now let’s setup a gateway, pull it into an off-the-shelf IoT software platform to get the data from the motor, collect the data, and monitor the data. Are we able to see what normal conditions look like? Can we run the machine enough such that it starts to exhibit the behaviors we often see in the field such as vibrations from a barring that isn’t lubricated? What do those signals look like? Depending on the IoT software platform and related analytics tools we’re using, we might be able to relatively easily define some algorithms that can identify normal and specific abnormal behaviors. [KP1]  Then, the IoT platform allows us to set alerts to trigger  the need for a service event. If we have this working well enough, then we can start to retrofit some motors in the field at a few customers’ sites. We can then continually improve the analytics, business activities and decisions that come from the analytics, and business value from the whole setup.

Once the value is proven, then it’s time to move forward to execute other projects in this IoT journey which can drive down more costs and generate more revenue. Next might be adding the sensors to the motor during manufacture, providing data to our company and to customers to enable more efficient operations of the equipment. Eventually the company can move to innovation and invention which require a lot more work and internal capabilities to realize value.

Keep in mind starting with maintenance should be accompanied by a review of your current equipment maintenance records, performance of your equipment, and maintenance culture and practices. We can put you in contact with people and companies that perform these assessments and provide very valuable recommendations and follow-on services.

If you have any questions on how to start the IoT journey, or on maintenance and reliability best practices please call us, we’ll be happy to chat. We can help evaluate if an IoT journey makes sense. Additionally, we have many contacts in the maintenance and reliability community through our trusted partners and from our heavy participation in SMRP (Society for Maintenance and Reliability, smrp.org).