The internet of things, commonly abbreviated as IoT, is a very general term. To talk about the industrial applications of the IoT we talk about IIoT, which is the quintessence of Industry 4.0, so is very ambitious to summarize in a few lines all its implications. All in all, this document will try to give some first touches to the reader.
Therefore, it is a bridge technology. When talking about IoT we refer to the capability of devices to interconnect and change data. This was traditionally restricted to computers, servers and, in general, to specific devices for communication but nowadays more and more smart devices are able to interact with each other or to access the Internet, from everyday household appliances to small industrial sensors.
The increase in the number of connected devices has grown in recent years up to unprecedented levels and it is evidenced by IPv4 addresses, which in 2011 were exhausted and an expansion to IPv6 was needed. A BI Intelligence study expects more than 24 billion IoT devices on Earth by 2020. That is approximately four devices per person on the planet.
It is a market with a great growth prospect, since between 2015 and 2020 6 billion dollars will have been invested in IoT solutions and a return on investment of 13 billion dollars is estimated for the years 2020-2025.
In order to briefly put the reader into context, we can distinguish between three large groups of IoT devices depending on the network they work in. It is important to know the main advantages when choosing the optimal device:
Mesh: The mesh network topology is a network topology in which each node is connected to all nodes. With low switching frequency and energy cost technologies such as ZigBee or Z-wave, it is the technology used for microsensors. With effective distances of less than 70 metres, low bitrates up to 250KB/s, they allow autonomies of up to 2 years.
Cells: The network originally set up for mobile phones. It moves in higher frequency bands, what allows a better bitrate, although it involves a higher energy consumption. Its main advantage is that it means forgetting about operating distances, since it is widely used in urban areas. Within the spectrum of options, there are those known as LTE or 4/5G and those designed for industrial environment such as Sigfox or NB-IoT.
Internet: This known network is more oriented to fixed or reduced movement devices, in which the energy consumption is not a problem and a more deterministic communication is sought. It has better speeds than the previous networks and under the right conditions it allows working in real time. In this network we find the connections for individuals such as Wi-Fi, Ethernet and henceforth Li-Fi or specific for the industrial environment such as Ethernet/IP, Profinet and EtherCat, among others.
Companies will be the main users of the IoT, with an estimated disbursement of 3 billion dollars between 2015-2020. The main advantages of including the IoT in the business sector can be categorized in three: reduction of operating costs, productivity increase and expansion into new markets or development of new product offers.
Thanks to the integration of microsensors without the need of investing in new operating equipment such as injectors or extruders that provide information in real time on the energy consumption and process data and warn us about malfunctions.
Sensors able to anticipate the failure of electrical motors and warn in order to perform a predictive maintenance or to measure the energy consumption without needing to be physically connected and communicated with Z-wave technology, particularly useful in hybrid or completely electric injection units.
It must be also mentioned the possibility of creating tailor-made PLC based on Arduino or Raspberry, in which we can choose, among other things, the connectivity desired while representing a great saving over traditional ones. These are some examples that have benefited from the IoT connectivity.
Where, for example, in terms of injection moulding of complex shapes, the data collected and analysed may help to ensure the maximum repeatability in the injection moulding process, consistent quality and low defects. Once again, the data help to determine the preventive maintenance of the machine, what helps to avoid unplanned downtime.
The use of wearable is also allowed, for example code readers, tracking devices or personal security devices, as well as in automated guided vehicles for warehouses or the adoption of technologies already mentioned in previous publications such as collaborative robotics or mixed reality.
The IoT technology not only offers improvements for the current markets, but it also opens up a range of new market opportunities, favoured in general by the possibility of having more customer information.
For example, no more than a couple of years ago, engineers used to take days or even weeks to get a quote for a customized plastic injection for a moulding project. Nowadays, the processing time of these valuations has been reduced to only a matter of hours. By means of the Internet and some very complex and innovative online budgeting systems, the automation of the budgeting process has revolutionised the injection moulding of the plastics industry.
Today’s products have an increasingly shorter shelf life, which implies that the time to market may affect largely their competitive advantage and manufacturers and suppliers are taking advantage of the immediacy of the Internet to connect and collaborate. Ten years ago, less than 10 % of companies used online tools to obtain manufacturing services. In the industrial sector, 68 % of professionals use currently the suppliers’ websites to obtain information, and 52 % use the Internet to request a quote.
In the specific case of the Valencian Community, only 26 % of plastic processing companies offer the customer online service, according to a recent study made by us. This leaves the sector a large scope for improvement with regard to the current market’s demand.