What’s next for industrial IoT? The growth of the smart factory

The world of industry is being transformed by the internet. For the first time, the Internet of Things (IoT) is creating a network of machine-to-machine communication, and the industrial world has been quick to take advantage of this technology.

The use of IoT in the industrial marketplace has led to the birth of the smart factory. The industrial IoT (IIoT) allows each machine to collect data about its own operation and status and then share this information with the entire network. The data creates a real-time picture that shows all aspects of the smart factory.

The Smart Factory

The IIoT, with its collection and sharing of data, allows the smart factory to operate as a single entity. Changes in performance or unexpected shifts in demand can be handled centrally, making the factory highly flexible and responsive. Additionally, the collection of data from each machine provides advance warning of maintenance and shortage issues, allowing potential problems to be identified early on so that action can be taken to minimize disruption.

The structure or topology of the smart factory plays a significant role in its operation. The structure can be described as a series of layers with the top being the enterprise layer. Contained within this layer are all the systems that administer and control the business, from sales and marketing to logistics and maintenance. It is at this level that the overall running of the organization is conducted.

Below the enterprise layer is the control layer. This contains the systems that receive the demands from the enterprise layer and convert them into a work schedule, ensuring that the raw materials are in the right place and that the operators are ready.

At the lowest level is the device layer—the factory floor on which all the machines operate. In a traditional factory before the era of the IIoT, these machines would all have been controlled locally. Skilled operators would ensure that the processes ran smoothly, with little interaction with the rest of the operation.

The New Raw Material

The IIoT connects all these machines at the device layer, sharing data both with each other and with the upper layers of the business. In this way, information has become critical to the operation of the smart factory, alongside other raw materials, such as steel and plastic.

The machines of the device layer are evolving too. The growth in the use of robotics on the factory floor is another reason for the increased digitization of the manufacturing space.  This has led to another innovation of the smart factory in the guise of edge computing.

For high-data applications such as robotics, edge computing brings the power to store and process data closer to where it is gathered. As IoT-enabled devices become more common, users must face the challenge of handling the volume of data that they generate. By reducing the distance between the source of the data and where it is processed, users can reduce the delay or latency created by transmitting data over long distances. This will be vital in applications that need to act in real time and allow users to reduce the cost of centralized or cloud-based servers.

Connectivity in Harsh Conditions

The growth of edge computing devices suggests that sophisticated electronics are finding their way onto the factory floor. The industrial environment is a harsh place, home to hazardous atmospheres, abrasive chemicals and harmful waste products. Even industries that depend upon sterile environments, such as the food preparation and pharmaceutical sectors, use machines that create heat and vibration while they are working. It is important that designers are aware of these conditions when selecting components.

The Molex Squba connector series has been designed specifically to provide sealed connectivity in the harsh conditions of the industrial market. With a current rating of up to 14.0A, a compact design and seals that provide IP68 protection, the Squba series is ideal for power applications on the factory floor, including the latest industrial robots.

Another requirement for the smart factory is high-speed data communications. Fortunately, the growth of the IoT has met the introduction of 5G wireless technology, enabling a new and highly flexible approach to the smart factory network. Molex manufactures a range of high-performance precision RF connectors, along with printed-circuit-board (PCB) mounted antenna solutions, to allow the creation of a vast array of electronic equipment with built-in 5G connection.

The IIoT delivers new methods of working for manufacturers. The market for smart factory and associated devices is expected to continue growing at a rate of more than 9% per annum over the next few years.1 With this exciting technology, industries will see new and existing users adapting their facilities to take advantage of the benefits it will bring. Choosing to work with Arrow and Molex for electronic components will ensure that you are at the forefront of this new industrial revolution.


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