Manufacturers favor “just in time” over “just in case” across the entire supply chain because it minimizes overhead expenses and fattens margins. But manufacturers, their suppliers and their customers are still leaving a lot of money on the table because they don’t have deep, real-time visibility into all of the factors that affect supply, demand and their ability to keep up.

The Internet of Things unlocks those additional insights. For example, manufacturers are increasingly adding IoT sensors to their robots, conveyor belts, pumps, punch presses and other key equipment. By tracking metrics such as vibration levels, voltage fluctuations and oil viscosity, those manufacturers now know exactly when a piece of equipment needs maintenance. This enables them to:

  • Shift production to other lines or other plants so they can continue to meet orders and deadlines.
  • Ensure they have the right parts and the right technicians ready to go the moment the maintenance window opens to reduce downtime.
  • Maintain a lean inventory of expensive spares and parts because IoT provides advance notice of unscheduled maintenance — an example of how the just-in-time (JIT) model applies to more than just raw materials and finished products.

The traditional alternative is to rely on people to catch a potential equipment problem before it results in an expensive breakdown and to use history to decide how many spares and parts to keep on hand. IoT eliminates both the human error and expensive, bloated just in case inventory these manual processes can create. It also frees those people to focus on tasks that improve productivity and add more to the bottom line.

Another example is radio frequency identification (RFID) tags affixed to pallets to provide real-time location information around the flow of raw materials and finished products. But that information can be analyzed to identify more efficient ways to move those pallets through a sprawling factory, such as with automated material handlers rather than with humans using forklifts and pallet jacks.

Finding the Right Technologies in a Rapidly Growing Field

Those are just a few examples of how manufacturers, suppliers and customers are leveraging IoT to take JIT to the next level. In fact, there are so many potential uses cases businesses often struggle to decide which ones to implement first, where and with which technologies.

That’s why they often call in experts from CDW. Take network technologies: Although those businesses usually have great Wi-Fi in their offices, it can be slow, spotty or even nonexistent in factories and warehouses. CDW uses site surveys to identify exactly where access points need to be installed to ensure a fast, reliable connection through a facility — even where steel storage racks stand in the way of signals.

CDW provides guidance around evolving technology. Currently, Wi-Fi, RFID and Bluetooth are three common IoT network technologies. But upcoming fifth-generation cellular technologies include versions designed for IoT applications inside factories and warehouses, rather than just for tracking the products and materials flowing in and out of them. It’s one more example of how the breadth and depth of IoT tools for supply chain applications keep growing, giving manufacturers even more opportunities to ferret out inefficiencies and boost their bottom lines.

To request an Internet of Things Envisioning Workshop, visit CDW.com/IoT-workshop.

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