Learn IoT best practices in our Guide to IoT Development.

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IoT (Internet of Things) solutions are becoming ever more popular in a wide range of industries, but especially in manufacturing. According to estimates by IDC, manufacturing is by far the biggest spender on IoT technologies, with a total of nearly $200 billion for discrete manufacturing and process manufacturing combined.

iot-manufacturing-statsPart of the reason for IoT’s success in manufacturing is that there are many new opportunities that weren’t present even 5 or 10 years ago. The ability to create quick prototypes with techniques like 3D printing, and the access to cheap sensors and software, makes it much easier for anyone to learn and get started with IoT than in years past.

The potential applications of IoT in manufacturing are endless. Sensors can tell if your machinery is running efficiently and effectively; they can even be placed in employees’ shoes to track slip and fall injuries on the factory floor. One major area of focus is optimizing logistics and the supply chain, especially inventory tracking and management.

Despite the tremendous benefits it can have, implementing IoT for manufacturing companies isn’t without its pitfalls and challenges. In this blog post, we’ll discuss some of the biggest problems that manufacturing businesses face when using IoT.

The Top 3 Challenges for IoT in Manufacturing

1. Security

In the event that an IoT pilot program is successful, manufacturers will almost certainly want to scale the solution to the rest of the company.

However, adding more complexity to an IoT solution in the form of additional devices and networks also creates more challenges in terms of security. In one memorable instance, hackers used a “smart” Internet-connected fish tank at a major Las Vegas casino to break into the facility’s databases.

To address this challenge, SSL encryption is a must for any devices that communicate and exchange information.

2. Cost of integration

In many cases, custom IoT work is more of an investment than purchasing a device off the shelf. A third-party IoT development partner will charge for costs such as testing and custom features that aren’t a concern when opting for an off-the-shelf solution.

However, the total cost of a custom IoT solution can actually be cheaper than an off-the-shelf product, which can be challenging to use and often has extra features that aren’t necessary. On the other hand, a custom-built IoT product gives you exactly the functionality you need and the information you rely on to make your operations more efficient and productive.

A good analogy here is the cost of developing a custom website vs. using WordPress or another content management system. WordPress has a lot of bells and whistles behind the scenes that can make the site bloated and slow and overwhelm users who aren’t familiar with the platform. Developing a custom website is more expensive up front, but you get the exact appearance and features you want and can build a long-term relationship with your development partner.

3. Lack of standards

The lack of standards in IoT, especially for hardware, is still a major challenge for implementation. Many embedded developers and designers have their own idiosyncratic way of doing things, making the hardware industry largely a black box. Tools and best practices for software development such as unit testing are still largely absent from IoT hardware design.

However, it’s very much to the client’s benefit that IoT developers follow these standards and implement their designs in an open and accessible manner. For this reason, Very uses Nerves, an open-source framework for writing IoT firmware using modern software development tools and processes. Nerves allows developers to test firmware, and then converts it into standard C++ code that can run on embedded devices.

Case Study: Automobile Battery Company

One of Very’s clients, an automobile battery company, stocks its products in thousands of retail locations around the country.

However, these batteries only have a shelf life of 3 months before they need to be recharged, which presented a major challenge for the client. There was no way to know which batteries have been sold at which stores, and which batteries need to be replaced because they’re running low on juice.

To deal with this issue, the client was loading up a full semi-trailer truck with many different types of batteries so that they would have enough to replace the inventory at each store. The size of the loads was based only on historical data, which required a lot of guesswork about the different battery stocks.

As a result, the client found themselves overcompensating by always carrying more batteries than they needed. This meant that the client was wasting fuel and taking up space in the truck for each 50-pound battery that was being transported unnecessarily.

Very helped the client build an IoT manufacturing solution that is much more efficient and cost-effective. Each battery has a low-power Bluetooth sensor that sends information to a central hub about its current location and charge.

This additional IoT-enabled data is tremendously useful for the client, allowing them to carry the exact products and quantities of batteries that they need. Drivers can use smaller vehicles that don’t require a commercial driver’s license, saving waste and fuel. Thanks to this collaboration with Very, the client expects to save tens of millions of dollars in the long run.

Overcoming IoT Manufacturing Challenges

While there are challenges involved in creating IoT solutions for manufacturing, they can be addressed and overcome by working with the right IoT development partner. Here at Very, we’re committed to following standards and best practices when building IoT manufacturing solutions. To learn more about Very’s IoT development processes and our work with previous clients, check out our complete guide to IoT development.