Over time, manufacturers across various industries have faced technological challenges when attempting to improve yields on production, generate higher margins, and operate more efficiently. However, recent advancements in IoT and network technologies have provided manufacturers with a wide set of tools to achieve these goals.
The idea of “smart” manufacturing stems from harnessing the power of data and using real-time analytics to operate machines and manufacturing facilities more efficiently. Without the Internet of Things and its associated technologies, none of this would be possible.
The emergence of the IoT space has enabled machines to communicate and collect data in real-time remotely. Companies now have the ability to strategically embed “things” such as IoT sensors on their machines, collecting relevant data and analytics and empowering them with more in-depth information about their machines than was previously possible. This allows manufacturers to make higher quality decisions, as they are equipped with accurate and powerful real-time insights and performance data. Utilizing this data is important for increasing efficiencies but is equally important in minimizing defects and identifying where improvements are needed in the manufacturing process, thus reducing the risk of costly downtime.
Since manufacturers now have the power to manage facilities and machines remotely through IoT technologies, the opportunity for automation and optimization has increased dramatically. However, security remains a major factor as there have been a growing number of attacks on manufacturers globally. Due to these attacks, network and device security have become a much larger topic of conversation recently, which is why it’s crucial to consider which networking technologies are being harnessed.
Traditionally, Wi-Fi networks have been utilized at indoor facilities to connect devices and machinery to the internet. However, reliability, security, and bandwidth constraints have created serious doubts that this network technology is ideally suited for mission-critical industrial and IoT applications.
Low Power, Wide Area Network (LPWAN) technology, also known as LoRaWAN, allows device operators to wirelessly connect battery operated objects to the internet. As a communication tool, LoRaWAN provides manufacturers with the flexibility and opportunity to connect IoT devices within a facility. Many existing LoRa networks utilize a mesh network architecture, forwarding information from individual end-nodes to other nodes, thus increasing a network’s communication range and cell size. However, to enable devices and sensors to communicate with application servers, gateways must pass this data between end-devices, a central network server, and an application server. Therefore, LoRaWAN networks are not a complete solution without cellular, Ethernet, satellite, or Wi-Fi backhaul.
Private LTE empowers enterprises to run their own local cellular networks with dedicated equipment and settings. In other words, these networks can be tailored for a company’s specific IoT application. The main drawback of Private LTE is that it is expensive to implement and operate. However, in large factories where companies have mission-critical devices and applications, this solution provides a much-needed alternative to Wi-Fi and offers a secure, wireless, private, and local network for connected devices.
Public cellular networks are a critical aspect of the current and future state of IoT. With the widespread availability of LTE and the advancement and rollout of 5G, manufacturers are beginning to benefit from multiple generations of broadband technologies. However, since manufacturers typically operate in indoor settings where public cellular connectivity can be limited, manufacturers may need to utilize cellular networks in tandem with other technologies, including Private LTE and LoRaWAN.
The bottom line is that every IoT use case is different and may require a combination of networking technologies to achieve a manufacturer’s connectivity goals. These technologies can complement each other to provide a complete, end-to-end solution, further advancing the manufacturing process in an increasingly digital world.