The Internet of Things (IoT) has slowly been implemented into various factories over the past few years. With its cornerstone promise of connectivity, it seeks to enhance operations across a range of workplaces and industries. These include IT, administration, hospitality, media, healthcare and utilities.
But it is in manufacturing that it is making perhaps its biggest impact. The IDC has forecast that global technology spending on IoT will reach $1.2 trillion in 2022. Within that, manufacturing will account for $150 billion of total spending, making it the largest industry for IoT expansion.
Factories have already made early strides with robotics and artificial intelligence (AI). This is for obvious reasons. These technologies bring precision and efficiency to complex and fast-moving operations.
It makes sense therefore for factories to become testing grounds for other technologies. And IoT is just another paradigm shift that will place those who embrace it at the forefront of productivity.
IoT allows for something that until recently had seemed like a distant dream: machines that can talk to one another. Rather than endless delays caused by machine breakdowns and the slow transmission of data, smart factories can now pick up any problems in an instant and go to work on fixing them and optimising operations. Bottlenecks can be identified and dealt with just as they begin to form.
IoT however wouldn’t be anything without other newly developed technologies. Sensing technology is becoming increasingly accurate. Combined with more powerful connectivity, it allows data to be collected in real time and shared over a wireless connection.
Another advance is in small computing devices – namely smartphones and tablets. Such devices allow workers to move around the factory floor to areas where they are needed, rather than being stuck in a room far away from the action, tethered to a computer.
Cloud infrastructure brings it all together, and allows roving workers armed with tablets to upload data as they go. Other workers can connect and review that data, wherever they may be. The result is that smart factory processes are ever more efficient.
One company pushing forward the boundaries of smart manufacturing is Hitachi. Working with Canadian toy manufacturer Spin Master, Hitachi has delivered a connected manufacturing system, where data sharing across time zones allows for agile business operations that drive loyalty and delight customers. In this case IoT literally puts smiles on children’s faces!
The rise of smart factories is however not without risk. Automation, AI, cloud computing—these all require advanced computing technology. But that opens the door to the threat of bugs and cyber attacks.
Criminal networks want data, the records of clients, for instance. This is holding investment back. Some 35 percent of factories surveyed in a 2018 report said that they had avoided investment in smart technology due to cyber security risks.
Manufacturing is the third most targeted industry for cyber attacks, yet one of the least prepared to defend itself. More than a third of manufacturers in the US, for instance, reported that they had no robust cyber security plan in place. And this despite the fact that any attack risks causing millions of dollars in losses from productivity alongside the time and money spent on repairing the damage.
Not only factories, but also industries that are newly reliant on smart technology, such as power stations, are therefore forced to think hard about ways in which to defend themselves from attacks. And Hitachi Vantara’s automated intrusion system is helping many organisations address these important issues of security.
The IoT is bringing new-found advances in productivity, and therefore profit, for manufacturers that few would dream of passing up. However, strong cyber security plans are essential for factories and other workplaces that are transitioning towards these highly connected infrastructures.
This article was originally published in Business Reporter.
 Computer Weekly: Manufacturing a key target for cyber attacks