In our BloQ, we repeatedly emphasize how crucial good collaboration is for excellent quality. On the one hand, we are talking about the interaction between employees and individual departments; but above all, we are referring to the cross-company collaboration between customers and suppliers in the supply network. However, there is another form of collaboration in modern companies that you might not immediately think of: the Internet of Things (IoT) describes an infrastructure that allows virtual and physical objects to function in a network. Read this BloQ article to find out exactly what this means and whether this somewhat different form of collaboration also has an impact on quality management.
Even if some people don’t initially know much about the term “Internet of Things,” most of them are already confronted in their everyday lives with technologies that network physical objects via the Internet. In many private households, for example, devices such as the TV, the computer or the smartphone are connected via the home network; it has therefore also become normal to be able to conveniently control a wide variety of devices via an app – which in some cases is now no longer necessary thanks to smart, automatic processes. For manufacturers, this concept of the Internet of Things is not a gimmick. It is intended to create added value for consumers, save money, time and energy, and thus make everyday life easier. SmartHome solutions therefore become a real enrichment for users – and can be marketed accordingly by companies.
However, such benefits are not limited to consumer electronics: The Internet of Things is a major advancement for the healthcare sector; for example, since sensors automatically send poor vital signs to an emergency physician in threatening situations, it becomes possible to save human lives in extreme cases. It will be hard to imagine our everyday lives without such technologies in the future. But what about in industry? Does the Internet of Things offer similar advantages here as well?
The headline already suggests it: the Internet of Things is also playing a greater role in companies – at least in some. First, the terminology should be distinguished: while the Internet of Things, for example in the SmartHome context, is aimed at added value for end consumers, the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) aims to improve manufacturing and industrial processes in companies through the use of intelligent sensors and actuators.
The Industrial Internet of Things is enabled, for example, by technologies such as cyber security, cloud computing, mobile technologies, machine-to-machine and big data. So-called cyber-physical systems (CPS) also play an important role: here, mechanical components are interconnected via networks and modern information technology. They enable the management and control of complex systems and infrastructures. Cyber-physical systems therefore consist of both stationary, physical machines and networked software and sensors that further process data from the “physical world.” The Industrial Internet of Things effectuates that systems in companies are no longer rigid; processes can be more easily adapted to current needs and failures can be avoided. A major advantage is therefore the increase in efficiency.
Although this all reads quite positively, there are downsides to this technological advancement. As already described in the article on the Digital Factory, the industrial Internet of Things also involves high development costs and major conversions for companies. In addition, large amounts of data are generated that have to be stored and transmitted. The security of users and the safe handling of sensitive company data should therefore be a top priority. Especially because the Internet of Things has long been targeted by hackers and cyberattacks have already taken place in the early stages of the new technology.
Not to be neglected is also the variety of new devices, sensors and actuators that, despite their “intelligence”, have to be commissioned, managed and brought up to date. Nevertheless, the effort is worth it: once the Industrial Internet of Things has been properly implemented, there are great opportunities for companies. Automation is increased, costs are saved in the long term, and production processes become more transparent, more reliable and at the same time more flexible. The latter is primarily due to the fact that machine data can be supplied in real time. So you are always up to date.
Real-time capability also offers great potential for quality management, because with the help of the Industrial Internet of Things, technical faults can be detected and avoided at an early stage; it also makes maintenance and servicing measures easier to plan. New control options are created, which fundamentally increases manufacturing efficiency and reliability and results in better product quality. Thanks to the automation and flexibility of the Industrial Internet of Things, it is also possible to realize individual products or small series at lower costs.
The Internet of Things can make people’s daily lives much easier, as described at the beginning. However, what applies to the private sphere (keyword SmartHome) also applies to employees in companies. It is not only product quality that benefits from implementation: the quality of work can also be increased. In the industrial Internet of Things, dangerous or physically demanding work is increasingly being taken over by smart machines or robots, which in turn have to be set up and managed. For employees, this means not only a reduction in workload, but also an opportunity to develop their own skills and acquire completely new abilities. Fears that robots will take our jobs away can therefore be formulated as an opportunity to become part of this development.