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Coronavirus: Industrial IoT in challenging times

Apr 30, 2020 12:32:50 PM / by Alleantia Guru



The Industrial Internet of Things can help companies navigate the current crisis and emerge stronger once operations ramp up again.

Remote employee collaboration, Vision-based control systems, Remote asset control, Digital performance management, IIoT-enabled asset optimisation, and Real-time procurement transparency.

These are only a few use cases where Industrial IoT represents an important improvement lever during this unprecedented crisis by lowering cost and improving products and process performance and capabilities in the short term. Industrial IoT solutions are also strategic enablers that can help companies to emerge stronger once operations ramp up again by reforming operating models in Supply-Chain integration, across value chain In-line process optimisation thanks to Plug and Play asset interconnection, Digital Twin modeling, and off - the - shelf applications.

Industrial IoT (IIoT), a major element of Industry 4.0, can help companies as they proceed on this journey. It has demonstrated its value on many occasions over the past few years, but some skeptics still doubt its worth and elected not to make bold investments in this area. What’s more, few business leaders view IIoT as a critical improvement lever in times of crisis, especially if their organizations have not previously explored it.

One of last McKinsey article, from which we report here a few extracts,  describes very well how industrials and companies can apply IIoT as they move through the three horizons outlined. Companies can begin this journey without a full IoT stack in place because the necessary technology foundations, including connectivity solutions and platforms, are readily available on the market. Any business can therefore apply IIoT solutions with limited effort.

Vision-based control systems. As with remote-collaboration tools, vision-based control systems can play an increasingly important role during the current crisis. For instance, systems that analyze video feeds can be combined with infrared imaging to detect fevers. Together, these tools can assist with the identification of infected or infectious employees, monitor physical distancing, and ensure that sick employees remain home. (Again, local regulations may determine whether such applications are permissible.) Some companies combine low-tech measures with vision-based control systems for the same purposes. Amazon, for example, takes body temperatures of workers at the entrances to warehouses. It also uses machine-learning software to analyze footage from on-site video cameras to ensure that employees are maintaining safe, recommended distances from one another during shifts


The pandemic will have a lasting effect on businesses, even after it abates. On the customer side, industrials might see a permanent shift toward contactless delivery or greater end-user configuration. They may also decide to implement new strategies along the entire supply chain to avoid disruptions similar to those they encountered in early 2020.


In addition to negotiating the current crisis, companies must prepare for such changes and aim to emerge stronger than they were before. Lighthouse factories prove that deploying IIoT use cases at scale can create significant improvements for all operational key performance indicators.

For example, some have increased output by 10 to 200 percent, reduced product costs by 5 to 40 percent, and decreased time to market by 30 to 90 percent. Overall, industrials will need to continue to strive for more operational flexibility, particularly the ability to change production volumes when needed. The following IIoT use cases show how companies can increase operational flexibility and start achieving impact at scale.

With COVID-19 disrupting both supply chains and customer demand, managing liquidity is crucial for industrial companies. IIoT can help in three areas.

IIoT-enabled inventory management. This use case can help industrial companies reduce inventory and thus directly free up liquidity. For instance, sensors can monitor container-fill levels at a single site using ultrasound. Other applications can track the flow of materials over long distances by using geo tags in combination with integrated mobile communication. This real-time transparency allows the logistics team to manage the material flow more accurately and order raw materials and other inputs closer to the date they are needed, reducing inventory. Although results vary by industry and company, IIoT can help reduce overall inventory levels by up to 36 percent.2

Waste reduction. Similar to inventory management, IIoT can provide transparency about the waste created during the production and its root cause. These insights help save cash because less raw material is needed to produce the same quantity. For mass production, companies can achieve significant savings by installing basic measurement devices, such as scales and in-line sensors that send information via IIoT. For example, a packaging company started to measure the length and weight of the plastic film thrown away and began to incentivize machine operators to reduce waste. These efforts helped reduce waste by 20 percent in under six months.

Longer maintenance cycles. Instead of replacing a machine part after a certain time period, companies can extend its lifetime by measuring its condition with IIoT sensors. If a repair is not warranted, companies can delay it beyond the standard period. Improved condition monitoring typically reduces maintenance costs by 10 to 15 percent.

IIoT can increase production efficiency of single machines or entire production lines by using advanced analytics to optimize process parameters. The algorithm analyzes information on all available variables, including production, scheduling, asset condition, and input goods. Data from individual machines get combined with information about the overall production program, allowing companies to optimize machine settings based on previous and subsequent production steps. This allows companies to adjust production schedules quickly to account for changes in demand or unexpected supply-chain disruptions.

Ensuring employee safety and security

Companies are suddenly dealing with remote work on a large scale, as well as new concerns about protecting their remaining on-site employees, and have adapted their workforce organization in consequence. On the shop floor, such measures include the following:

  • keeping teams at a maximum of five to ten people
  • decoupling the start and end times of shifts
  • reorganizing the workplace layout to allow for a distance of more than 1.5 meters (five feet) between employees
  • conducting shift handovers remotely

IIoT tools can play an important role in ensuring a seamless transition through these changes, enabling location based services.


Remote employee collaboration. In general, the more digitized a company’s processes are, the simpler it is to collaborate remotely. Off-the-shelf IIoT tools support the continuation of operations with fewer employees on site, since they facilitate remote work in direct and indirect functions. For example, a US tier-one supplier is using a manufacturing-execution system (MES) to optimize production and increase transparency. Even though many managers are no longer on site, the MES outputs provide the information they need to have valuable discussions during videoconferences. Similar solutions are available for the shop floor. Consider how one European commercial-vehicle OEM uses digital team boards to coordinate jobs, measure production levels, and improve performance gaps across shifts. Other IIoT tools, such as digital heat maps, can support root-cause analyses for various problems. With machine breakdowns, for instance, IIoT tools can receive input from sensors that help pinpoint problems, such as broken components or oil leakage that could interfere with production. Teams can then review the tool outputs and discuss the potential sources of error over videoconference.

Workforce tracking. When facilities remain open, workforce-tracking solutions can help enforce essential physical-distancing measures. If workers consent and local regulations permit, employees can wear positioning devices for fencing purposes that show where they are moving within a facility. This information gets fed into intelligent algorithms that help managers optimize workflows and minimize contact at shift changeovers and other critical points. Recently, for example, one company quickly staggered breaks and rearranged shifts based on IIoT insights, allowing it to continue operations while drastically reducing employee contact. Some IIoT tracking solutions automatically restrict access to certain areas if there are too many people.

If employees test positive for the coronavirus, companies could use positioning data from their wearable devices to notify colleagues with whom they had been in close proximity. Of course, all worker-specific information must be anonymized to protect employee privacy. And if COVID-19 forces many people to be absent because of illness, the devices will inform management about short-staffed areas, allowing management to identify operational areas where slowdowns or other risks may materialize.

In addition to protecting workers, tracking solutions can improve operations. Overall, case examples have demonstrated that they increase productivity by 10 to 30 percent, depending on factory setup (for instance, the number of machines and types of processes).

Very well explained in this accurate McKinsey & Company report. To have a look at it, click here:



Alleantia Guru

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