vasabii - Fotolia

How can the Internet of Things benefit process manufacturing?

IoT technologies hold promise for sectors that produce chemicals, food and beverages, pharmaceuticals, and other process goods. Here's a glimpse of how the technology is being used today.

Because the Internet of Things (IoT) is so often associated with the digitization of products -- for example, embedding sensors into a physical product or hardware -- it is often associated with discrete manufacturing. But automakers, industrial equipment and high tech aren't the only sectors that can access the potential of IoT. Indeed, IoT technologies hold great promise for the process manufacturing sector -- whether in consumer packaged goods, chemicals, food and beverage, or other areas. We're already seeing how some in process manufacturing are doing just that. Here are just a few examples:

Plant monitoring. IoT technology is being used to update equipment and software so that it can be remotely monitored. This can be done by third parties for predictive maintenance, quality control and so on. This application of IoT technology is not new. But since many manufacturers never implemented a manufacturing execution system in the plant, IoT systems built for production can provide an "MES-lite" or augment a plant system to provide monitoring from a central site or from third parties.

Streamlining the supply chain. Another way process manufacturing can use IoT technologies is for supply chain improvements. For example, one industrial chemical company changed its packaging and package size so its customer's new sensor-based blending machine can sense, weigh, and determine the ingredient, and alter temperature and mixing instructions. The mixing machine can sense when it is running out of product and send an alert to reorder to the supplier, who will ship a new canister and take back the old one when they deliver the new one.

Quality improvements through track and trace. Another common area where IoT provides benefits is attaching sensors, radio frequency identification or GPS to shipments. We are seeing a lot more of this, especially with hazardous, time-sensitive critical products such as urgent medications and biologics or food. I spoke to a fresh fish company that uses temperature-sensitive devices and special packaging to enable safer shipping direct from the docks to chefs.

Although the promise of IoT can seem overly hyped, the potential to become more predictive in service and maintenance to improve performance does exist. In addition, the potential for process integrations through the supply chain; rethinking packaging to provide more security, traceability and product protections; and rethinking product and the ecosystem in which it interacts are all new frontiers with great potential. Those in process manufacturing would do well to start thinking now about how IoT could help them remain competitive.

Next Steps

IoT gateways offer promise to manufacturers

Manufacturers turning to IoT technologies

IoT growing fast in manufacturing

Seven supply chain issues for process manufacturers

Dig Deeper on ERP software for discrete manufacturing