The Industrial Internet of Things has the potential to bring dramatic cost reductions and improvements in safety and efficiency. But change happens fast, and businesses that don’t embrace the technology now risk becoming uncompetitive in the future.

“Those that fail to act now risk being left behind.”

That’s the view of PwC’s Global Technology Industry Lead, Raman Chitkara, speaking recently about how manufacturers adopting the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) now will be the future leaders in their markets.

The IIoT gathers data from sensors in smart machines and uses advanced analytics to deliver valuable insights to people at all levels in the business. It does not replace humans but delivers new insights to drive smarter, faster business decisions.

IIoT predictive analytics allow manufacturers to detect defects long before they become apparent to human senses. And new product development is accelerated by using operations and service data in the product design cycle.

By combining machine-to-machine communication with data analytics, the IIoT is driving unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity, and performance.

Take the example of condition monitoring – using sensors to constantly check on the status of components inside machines. By giving advanced warning of failure, it’s a data-driven way to achieve proactive Maintenance, Repair & Operations (MRO) management.

My colleague Richard Jeffers, Director for Maintenance Solutions at RS, puts it like this: “Condition monitoring is a perfect example of gathering data and putting it to work.”

Be proactive with the IIoT

Similarly, analysing all the other MRO data within an organisation can help build proactive strategies and take the emphasis off a solidly reactive response to MRO needs.

“Condition monitoring is a perfect example of gathering data and putting it to work”Richard Jeffers, Director for Maintenance Solutions, RS

Manufacturers who fail to act not only risk being left with antiquated processes but also being unable to attract the best young talent. Educating teams in the emergence of new technologies and advances is vital.

Analysis by LinkedIn of tech-savvy jobseekers found that almost two-thirds wanted to join a company that offered them the potential to learn and develop new tech skills.

“Manufacturers who fail to act risk being left with antiquated processes and unable to attract the best talent”Peter Malpas, President for EMEA, RS

So, if you want to recruit the engineers of the future you need to demonstrate that your company is a great place to work because it is embracing IIoT. This means taking part in STEM programmes and offering workplace internships, which can bring vital knowledge of technologies into businesses.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

Many companies fear the IIoT because they don’t understand the benefits it can bring, or fear is holding them back from seeing the full benefits. The RS/CIPS 2019 Indirect Procurement report – ‘The future of MRO’ found that just 7% of UK companies had an IIOT strategy in place. This gives suppliers like RS Components a great opportunity to help.

Dr Carlos Lopez-Gomez is Head of Policy Links at the University of Cambridge’s Institute for Manufacturing. He and his team have analysed more than 1,000 examples of the adoption of digital technology in industrial settings across the world.

They found the majority of manufacturers investing in the IIoT are focusing on single processes. The bigger prize for the UK will come from using the technology for strategic areas like process design and definition, they say.

It might take longer to implement, but Dr Lopez-Gomez’s research suggests that the full benefits of the IIoT will be felt by companies with larger supply chains and more complex infrastructure.

Organisations and distributors that offer IIoT services and strategies have a huge role to play in helping their customers understand the ‘why’ and ‘how’ behind Industry 4.0, in which technologies such as the IIoT are transforming businesses.

IIoT is already here

Of course, this isn’t something in the far-off future – the IIoT is already here. Increasingly, components are ready to be connected.

But, as Dr Lopez-Gomez’s research shows, companies must develop a business strategy to get value from these opportunities. Their approach to industrial data management needs to include an IT strategy to tackle potential cybersecurity issues.

To do this, they must ask themselves how they can extract value from the data they will collect. By itself, data may be interesting, but it is how you analyse it that’s the key to transforming your business.

Few manufacturing businesses can spare the resources to build this understanding from scratch and trusted suppliers will be an essential part of the solution. This can be specific OEM vendors, or integrators who can help customers understand the broader challenges.

I have no doubt that the wider adoption of IIoT technology is going to be critical in preventing companies falling behind their global competitors. And I believe this is going to be one of the more fundamental changes we’ll see in the industrial MRO landscape in the years to come.