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How can IIoT benefit process manufacturing companies?

Manufacturers of chemicals, food and beverage, gasoline, and pharmaceuticals have much to gain by employing the use of industrial internet of things technology. Here's a look.

IIoT in manufacturing has much to offer, including increased visibility of the entire supply chain, closer tracking of activities inside and outside of the plant, more precise and timely measurements, reduced manual reporting requirements and more. Process manufacturers, in particular, many of which are subject to extensive documentation and tracking requirements, can benefit greatly from industrial internet of things technology.

Shop floor reporting

Process manufacturers often employ highly automated flow production lines, or mix and pack processes, that do not lend themselves to traditional reporting mechanisms, so production tracking, actual costing and transaction reporting are challenging.

Companies usually settle for departmental accounting, backflushing and end-of-shift reporting, with their inherent inaccuracy, delays and lack of precision. Industrial internet of things (IIoT) automation can track these types of processes continuously and precisely, enabling real-time tracking and accurate actual costing. Sensors and smart controllers can track machine cycles (production quantity), time, material usage and more, automatically, without the need to distract operators from their regular duties in keeping the line functioning efficiently.

Process documentation

Food and pharmaceutical manufacturers often require detailed records of processing conditions and activities. Once again, IIoT sensors and connected smart controllers can be used to gather the needed information continuously, and at a level of detail that would be impractical with manual reporting.

In addition to the counts and times listed above, food and pharmaceutical manufacturers can track critical parameters like temperature, humidity, pressure, viscosity, strength or other quality measurements for each batch or production group (for example, day, shift, machine, operator) to complete the processing record.

Traceability and chain of custody

Any controlled or regulated product must be traceable by a specific batch or lot from end to end -- raw material; supplier; batch; shipment, sometimes including handling and ambient conditions data; production process dates, times, machines or lines; operators; other measurements; distribution information, including how and where product was stored and handled; and each stage through distribution to the end customer.

ERP systems configured for food and pharmaceutical markets embody the appropriate database and analytical tools, but they must be fed the necessary data to populate the tables, and that's where IIoT comes in. Location-aware devices (radio frequency ID and GPS, for example) enable inventory movement tracking. Sensors capture the ambient conditions, measured parameters, vibration, temperature, etc.

In addition to simple tracking and documentation, IIoT data can be used to drive additional functions that help process manufacturers increase efficiency, lower costs and better manage the business. Better actual costing information and accurate inventory records (from actual usage, rather than backflushing) were already mentioned.

Some companies might use the data from connected devices to manage distribution more precisely (reroute shipments to satisfy changing needs, for example), implementing an intelligent replenishment model based on real-time consumption data, and using asset and material tracking to detect and reduce theft, and maintaining inventory levels by tagging and tracing products throughout the supply chain.

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