The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is changing the face of modern manufacturing.
The combination of networked machines, sensors, connectivity and big data analytics provides engineers with real-time insight that can drive efficiency and reliability improvements across production facilities.
Indeed, IIoT has reached a tipping point. Research from global technology leader ABB suggests that 93% of organizations are already on their digitalization journey. Meanwhile, 84% have had positive or very positive experiences using IIoT to increase transparency and control over operations.
So, what does that look like in the real world? The most extensive application of IIoT in manufacturing relates to condition-based monitoring. Here, maintenance teams use sensors to measure various parameters such as temperature, pressure, vibration, fluid levels and more.
Data can then be processed in situ at the edge or transmitted through wireless networks to a central data storage platform, with analytics combing through the information to spot patterns, trends and abnormalities.
This statistical information can be very revealing, identifying when a piece of equipment is starting to perform unexpectedly. Once a particular outlier is breached, engineers can be alerted to prepare to take remedial action – before unplanned downtime occurs.
Why skills shortages are on the horizon in manufacturing
However, despite this encouraging uptake, a potential problem in the form of skill shortages is looming in the connected world of smart manufacturing. Increasingly, companies struggle to attract the right people to lead their digital transformation.
A Manufacturing Excellence report commissioned by WorldSkills UK in partnership with BAE Systems found that nearly two-thirds (63%) of manufacturers believe that advanced manufacturing technologies and processes are currently impacting their skills needs, and more (69%) think they will in the next five years. The report adds that over half of manufacturers reported an increased demand for advanced digital skills.
It is a similar story in many other parts of the world. In the US, for example, it is estimated that by 2030, manufacturers will need to fill four million jobs, more than 2 million of which could remain vacant unless more people are inspired to pursue careers in modern manufacturing.
How IIoT is reshaping the workforce
These statistics tell an illuminating story. Far from killing off employment opportunities in manufacturing – as has often been predicted – technology mega-trends such as digitalization and IIoT are leading to a reskilling and upskilling of large proportions of the workforce, creating new roles that may not have been needed before. For instance, IIoT has dramatically impacted the number of networking professionals in manufacturing, with record demand for data scientists and analysts, cybersecurity experts, digital twin specialists and robotics and automation engineers, to name but a few.
This shifting requirement shows no signs of abating. Disruptive technologies such as artificial intelligence, quantum computing and 5G and 6G will continue to transform career direction in manufacturing, emphasizing attributes such as analytical thinking, complex problem-solving, creativity, originality, and initiative.
So, these are exciting times in manufacturing. They are changing times, too. Technologies such as IIoT have not proved to be the death knell of employment. Instead, they are creating the exciting opportunities of tomorrow.