An often-overlooked benefit of IoT initiatives?
The real-time data collection and reporting functions of IoT can reduce the more than 430,000 non-fatal occupational injuries in the private manufacturing sector. Companies can outfit heavy machinery with automatic stop guards to cut equipment power when a dangerous situation arises. When sensors detect a person is in the way, the system can halt a process while delivering alerts. The same solution can be used to, say, stop a spinning blade or compression system when sensors detect fingers or limbs in an activity zone.
Of course, it's the more unorthodox and innovative uses of IoT technology that makes bigger waves in industry.
1. Upgrading personal protective equipment with wearable technologies
By augmenting workers’ protective equipment with smart, connected functionality, safety vastly improves. Consider improved visibility and awareness for various tasks; augmented reality (AR) features can fit into a pair of goggles to deliver digital information in real-time.
Workers can use smart gloves with embedded sensors to collect and analyze critical physiological data, such as body temperature and heart rate. That information feeds into a central system—ideally run by AI—which distributes the necessary alerts to personnel.
Cases like these already exist in the real world. Think Google Glass RealWear, which sells AR safety glasses that improve workflow.
2. Smart & strong industrial robots
Safety is enhanced with the advent of advanced industrial robots. Autonomous bots can perform tasks more accurately than ever before, particularly dangerous jobs. Gone are the days where robotics and automated systems were limited in scope. Companies can now employ robots to handle hazardous chemicals and risky processes. During a disaster, for example, robots can access areas that would prove deadly to humans. In the warehouse setting, robots can be employed to move objects that would put great strain on a human body
3. Developing smarter, more aware buildings
Unseen dangers are a pressing concern in manufacturing facilities. Even when hazards are labeled adequately, it's still possible for workers, visitors and vendors to encounter dangerous situations.
Imagine an incredibly hot vent pipe, for example, that runs along a facility wall. Even with the appropriate warnings, it would still be relatively easy for someone to come into contact with the pipe, burning their body on its surface.
But that same facility—when outfitted with IoT sensors and alert systems—can be made much safer with real-time smart monitoring. The building can be made aware, as a central control system tied into machine learning can identify problems on the fly and take action. In the case of the hot pipe, an audible warning could activate when the system detects someone too close.
It can be dangerous out there in the manufacturing space, even for the smartest among us. But tools and techniques under the IoT umbrella are available to not only optimize operations, but also optimize safety.
Kayla Matthews is a technology journalist and manufacturing writer