Why should your manufacturing company look at the Internet of Things?

Your manufacturing company likely has business goals which include growing revenue, margins, and profits, as well as beating out the competition.

In today’s market, those goals are increasingly difficult to achieve.  Companies must continue to become more efficient, increase output, work for more demanding customers, work under increasing regulations, all the while continuing  to earn current or better margins and profits.

In the past, installing ERP systems or using Lean and Six Sigma frameworks were enough to improve the business. Many businesses can still benefit from those kinds of efforts. However, more and more those efforts aren’t  enough to get the required efficiencies, production and competitive differentiation.

The Internet of Things, which is a set of technologies put together into a system to convert data into useful information, is the next solution for enabling a business to accomplish their goals. Here are a few ways IoT becomes the next solution:

  1. Digging Deeper: ERP and MES (Manufacturing Execution System) systems are setup to provide data down to a certain level of detail for manufacturing processes. That used to be enough for companies to make major improvements in production efficiencies. However, IoT can provide data that is another level or two deeper. It can, among other tasks, provide data about conditions inside equipment. That data can be used to understand how close the machine is to its effective operational limits, in addition to providing production output and related data.
  2. More Uptime: The internal data can also be used to provide information on the condition of machines and even predict if and when they might break down. This allows maintenance and service technicians to fix the machines before major issues occur and keep them up and running longer, thereby increasing OEE (Optimal Equipment Effectiveness).
  3. Sharing Data: The information that comes from an IoT system about production and equipment conditions can be shared beyond the manufacturing plant floor. Equipment often has an HMI (Human Machine Interface), or a screen from which users can view status information. However, that data is often not available outside of the shop floor. Utilizing the “Internet” portion of the Internet of Things allows maintenance technicians, management, and business leaders to see important data as needed.

Once the IoT system is in place, people across the organization can use the deeper, more useful data from equipment, manufacturing processes, and other areas of the business to drive decisions and actions. This is where the data becomes valuable information, and thereby becomes the differentiator in moving the business to the next level of growth in revenue, margins and profit, and also in competitive advantage.

Questions? Contact us at info@ectobox.com to learn more.

Consider off-the-shelf IoT software platforms


We have seen some companies attempt to create a custom IoT software platform for their own use.

Generally, we recommend against this for several good reasons.

First, some background information. [Or, if you are already familiar with IoT, skip ahead to the Why Not to Build section below].



What is the Internet of Things?

The Internet of Things (IoT) is the process of pulling data from sensors on equipment or other devices, moving it over the internet, adding other data from external systems, and then transforming that data into valuable information.

IoT converts physical action and data into digital data. A sensor detects a certain type of activity on a piece of equipment. That “activity” is transformed into a digital signal, and then sent over the wire to a collection point, and then pushed on into the IoT software platform. The platform is where the data is transformed into valuable information through processing, adding other data from external systems, often run through machine learning algorithms, and then displayed to end users.

Some uses of IoT:

  • IoT solutions allows companies to monitor and manage activities in various areas of the business, such as the condition of machines
  • IoT allows physicians to monitor the heart beats and respiration of babies in home, and allows parents to maintain a warm home environment to allow babies to develop.
  • IoT can tell you what food is in your refrigerator and then automatically order missing items from your grocery store for delivery.

What is an IoT software platform?

An IoT software platform is the place where the data transforms into valuable information. There are a number of components in the platform, as follows.

  • Software: The software contains the data and cyber model and orchestrates various parts of the software platform. It also provides the visualization, and often the capability for end users (not only software developers) to configure the system or make changes to the system.
  • Data processing and storage: When data comes into the platform, data must be processed and then stored.
  • Analytics: A lot of the transformation of the data into valuable information happens in the analysis of the data. This analysis can include basic descriptive statistics all the way up to machine learning algorithms for predictive analytics.
  • Interface to External Systems: Any good software platform must be open such that it can interface with other systems. Part of the value of IoT comes from data other than the data from equipment and other devices.
  • Security: Security is increasingly important to protect the company’s intellectual property. The IoT software platform should provide strong protection for data at rest (in storage) as well as in motion (moving over the network and into the platform).

Why Not to Build an IoT platform

Now, imagine creating a tool from scratch that does everything described above? The project would be immense, long, expensive, and likely experience the unfortunate issues and delays too many software projects experience unless you have the right team and leadership running the software project.

It’s analogous to building your own ERP (Enterprise Resource Planning) system. We talk with a lot of manufacturing companies, and out of the hundreds I can think of only 3 companies that have a custom ERP system, all of which are now being replaced; two because they are old and inflexible, and one because the company truly is unique and no other system did what they needed.

There are a lot of ERP systems to select from and many of them provide virtually the same features and benefits because the needs of manufacturers are often very similar.

This same principle applies to IoT software platforms. IoT is about pulling data from sensors on equipment, moving that data over the internet, adding other valuable data to it, and converting it to valuable information. This means the needs for different companies are often very similar. Additionally, at a high level the components of systems are frequently the same.

When needs are the same, and there are a lot of similar systems which can provide the required features and benefits, it’s likely that there is an IoT software platform out there that will provide what a company needs.

Which System to Use?

We are believers in choosing the platform that best fits your needs. We provide IoT solutions using either or both the Microsoft Azure IoT platform and the PTC ThingWorx suite of IoT products.

If you have questions , or are looking at either Azure or ThingWorx, please call us at 412-923-3002. We’d be happy to provide a  free consultative meeting with recommendations.