The use of smart tools, sensors, and machines to improve manufacturing and industrial processes is known as the Industrial IoT (IIoT). The IIoT enables manufacturers to digitize nearly every aspect of their operations and reduce errors. Furthermore, manufacturers can increase the safety of their operations while also boosting productivity at the same time. Let’s explore how this new era of the IIoT, often called the fourth industrial revolution or Industry 4.0, is reshaping manufacturing as we know it.
Every organization dealing with physical assets such as vehicles, product shipments, or rented machinery needs a way to keep track of the whereabouts of these devices. In the past, companies had to fill out paperwork to track an asset’s journey and document the transfer of goods. Today, many manufacturing and fulfillment centers use asset trackers such as small beacons to help keep track of equipment and shipping goods. Asset trackers can not only monitor the location of items but also track other metrics such as temperature to ensure that goods are being stowed properly.
Another IoT application gaining popularity in factories is wearable devices. Wearable IoT devices like RFID tags and smartwatches can help enhance worker safety conditions. For example, IoT wearables can identify if a worker has experienced a fall, or identify staff locations in real-time in case of a crisis. Equipment like IoT-powered safety vests and belts can monitor employee well-being metrics like heart rate, movement, and ergonomics, in addition to tracking environmental conditions like air quality and noise levels.
Equipment monitoring is another helpful IoT application for factories. For example, a factory may have a large industrial fan that serves as an integral and valuable mechanism, with each blade costing upwards of $100K. The company would want to continually monitor the condition of each blade and conduct any preventive maintenance needed before it breaks and causes severe damage. Some companies also use IoT monitoring tools to keep an eye on a factory’s temperature, pressure and even levels of hazardous waste. By keeping close tabs on the health of equipment and other key metrics, companies can take preventative measures before an issue escalates to a point where it cannot be easily handled.
These types of smart applications can significantly help streamline operations, meaning that it’s essential that they work at all times. However, many smart devices still require batteries which need to be changed often, creating a maintenance headache and driving up costs – not to mention the unnecessary waste of throwing out batteries frequently. The solution is for companies to use connected devices with an extended battery life that lasts the lifetime of the device. One way that connected devices can prolong battery life is with a low power radio implementation that supports the latest Bluetooth 5.0 standard. The Bluetooth 5.0 platform has four times the range, two times the speed and eight times the bandwidth than that of its predecessors.
Another approach to reducing power consumption is to leverage functions like low-power radio and on-demand wakeup. Low-power radio technology is designed to enable connected devices to operate with minimal power, maximizing battery life. On-demand wakeup technology allows devices to listen for incoming transmissions (such as sounds) while remaining in a very low power state.
The on-demand wakeup feature, which can be built into SoCs, essentially works like a second pair of ears that listens for radio frequency (RF) wakeup signals coming in. The primary transmitter and receiver remain off until the second pair of ears “hears” RF wake-up signals and notifies the primary pair that relevant RF is coming in; then, the primary pair, which performs data connectivity functions and therefore requires additional power, turns on to complete the transaction.
This enables the data connectivity radio (transmitter and receiver) to wake up only when needed rather than wasting battery power when it’s not needed. This on-demand wakeup technique can reduce power consumption by up to 100 times relative to other Bluetooth 5.0 solutions on the market, depending on the specific application.
Furthermore, the addition of controlled energy harvesting can deliver battery-free operation for connected devices. Energy harvesting is the process of capturing and storing small amounts of energy from external sources, such as RF, photovoltaic, thermal, and motion. This energy is then converted to electricity in place of, or as a supplement to, battery power. In the past, the deployment of battery-free solutions using energy harvesting had only been viable for very short-range applications. With the combination of Bluetooth 5.0 and ultra-low-power functionality, power consumption can be low enough to be supported by harvested RF, light, or heat energy, while still being able to provide the range and coverage equivalent to Wi-Fi. Using Bluetooth 5.0 with energy harvesting technology is saving companies time and money by not having to replace batteries regularly, decreasing the overall cost of ownership of these systems. Furthermore, using IoT applications with extended battery life means that workers can minimize their time in dangerous or hard-to-reach locations.
In the future, we’ll see more facilities using connected devices that have integrated energy harvesting capabilities as part of their efforts to reduce waste and become more sustainable. The good news is that using devices with energy harvesting not only benefits the environment but also saves companies money on the costs of battery maintenance and replacement. After all, the cost of maintaining fleets of IIoT devices can add up quickly if companies use traditional battery-operated solutions that need to be changed frequently. This combination of sustainability and cost savings is a win-win for the manufacturing industry and showcases how technologies like energy harvesting are transforming many industries for the better.