Companies that have been forced to change their practices because of the COVID-19 pandemic have relied on remote monitoring solutions to support their business continuity endeavors.

Author Radiana Pit | Copperberg

Even before the outbreak, remote monitoring started to transform the manufacturing industry, showing business leaders that IoT devices and AI-enabled reporting platforms can drive cost benefits and create new standards of efficiency, especially on the factory floor.

As the virus spread and social distancing guidelines became the norm over the past year, manufacturers have been forced to operate with a limited workforce and monitor production from afar. That’s when industrial IoT-enabled technology really came in handy, allowing production planners and supervisors to remotely monitor their equipment, production rates, cycle times, and more. 

Facilitating business continuity in extreme situations

In order to maintain optimal production rates and maximize the use of available resources, production line efficiency and accuracy are essential. The data available at production lines must be interpreted as accurately as possible in order to detect errors, respond immediately with corrective actions, and ultimately improve efficiency.

Traditionally, factories relied upon manual processes to achieve this. Collecting data manually is risky. The results can be incomplete, inconsistent, and inaccurate, making the available data unreliable. As such, an automated, digitized way of data collection and analysis was necessary and many companies have implemented automated solutions in recent years. However, some were caught off guard by the pandemic.

Companies that already had an automated, remote monitoring system in place were able to facilitate business continuity in times of crisis. As shop floor activity hit its lowest levels since World War II and traditional, manual processes were cut short, remote monitoring solutions became ubiquitous. With their help, manufacturers were able to:

  • Capture and monitor the usage of machine tools remotely;
  • Identify efficiency improvement needs in the production process;
  • Gain insights into equipment performance and availability;
  • Optimize equipment efficiency and enforce corrective measures;
  • Collect critical production data without human intervention;
  • Eliminate product losses and human-error;
  • Monitor environmental conditions through sensors and controllers;
  • Enable predictive maintenance.

More importantly, remote monitoring enabled factories to continue their activities with a reduced number of employees on the shop floor and integrate the work from home policy that defined 2020 for many people.

By leveraging a tech stack that consists of IoT devices and AI capabilities, manufacturers were able to derive actionable insights from machine data and key production indicators to reduce traffic on the shop floor, thus minimizing exposure and facilitating social distancing among workers. They were also able to enhance production efficiency by using data analysis capabilities to track machine performance, work shift policies, and ensure workspace safety.

Any company that embraces industrial IoT can make remote monitoring a reality. Once the basics are established, the IoT infrastructure can be expanded by adding new, more sophisticated capabilities and connecting smart devices. Remote monitoring is just the beginning and it can be extended from the production lines to machine health and beyond. 

“Business as usual” is a thing of the past

A very important thing has become clear during the pandemic: manufacturers will survive and thrive if they are flexible, adaptable, and agile enough to respond to market volatility in real time. Continuing to invest in remote monitoring capabilities and advanced technology is the key to meeting changing customer demands, managing production shifts, and driving operational excellence under unforeseen circumstances

Reverting back to traditional, manual processes and legacy systems that have no IoT integrations will not restore balance or stability. Preparing for worst-case scenarios should be among the priorities of manufacturers that want to push forward and innovate in the future. The pandemic is just one example of a slow-moving storm but there are many other unforeseeable events that could occur and inflict devastating damage to businesses around the world.

It may not be easy to let go of in-person production monitoring and quality assurance processes, but it’s necessary to rethink and reinvent business models so that they serve the new, digital narrative of the business world.

Moving forward, those who will differentiate themselves on the market will be the ones who are not afraid to let go of the old ways today. As companies plan “back to normal” reopenings, everyone should consider extending automation, digitizing most, if not all, data, and enable as much remote functioning as possible—even if working in close proximity is deemed safe once again.

This will not only prepare manufacturers for worst-case scenarios but also for innovative use cases and new, global markets. So, if business growth and expansion are already on your mind for 2021, then remote monitoring is a good stepping stone in that direction.

Global companies that operate internationally rely on remote monitoring for full visibility into daily processes, production lines, and machine health. And in industries where high-compliance is mandatory, remote monitoring helps companies ensure the safety, reliability, and viability of their products and the processes they employed to produce them.

For companies looking to expand into remote locations and new markets, the extra maintenance costs and lack of visibility can make it difficult to run operations. But remote monitoring provides the possibility of real-time alerts, increased responsiveness, and continuous uptime, ensuring that production lines don’t stop, especially in critical times.

Although the pandemic won’t last forever and not every day comes with a worst-case scenario, agility, resilience, adaptability, and flexibility are core values for any business at any point in time. Being able to accommodate workers when disaster hits and having the right systems in place to support and continue daily operations from a distance will become business standards that write the rules for the new normal.

Even in best-case scenarios, there are still production areas where workers are required to access systems without being present in the manufacturing plant. Remote monitoring can close the existing gap, syncing personnel and machines in order to facilitate increased productivity and operational excellence.

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