The Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) is reshaping how manufacturing companies work, increasing productivity while achieving higher consistency levels and lower error rates.
Manufacturing also has seen continuous improvement in safety processes as a result of evolving technologies.
When integrating new technology into your safety program, here are six IIoT trends EHS managers should consider.
1. Combining IoT Sensors With Computer Vision
Many IoT setups in manufacturing plants feature sensors that continually gather data and help managers make better decisions. The IoT sensors can also track trends to help executives determine what's working well, and where room for improvement exists.
Concerning safety, companies increasingly use IoT sensors and computer vision to promote workers' well-being. Computer vision aims to function like the human brain and eyes do. It detects differences between environments and situations, then responds accordingly. Some computer vision systems screen data from IIoT sensors and look for any abnormalities. If it finds them, it can automatically stop industrial equipment to prevent injuries.
Other computer vision technologies look for defects in products. Finding those promptly limits the potential damage caused to workers who handle those items at later points in an assembly line, as well as to the eventual customers.
2. Fitting Workers With High-Tech Wearables
Many manufacturing workers wear protective equipment like goggles and high-visibility vests depending on their typical roles. Those things help keep them safer in the workplace. Traditional personal protective equipment won't become obsolete, but IIoT wearables can complement them.
Eleksen offers IIoT safety wearables that increase worker visibility or monitor things like posture, noise and physiological data. Moreover, the company has wearable gadgets that offer fall detection alerts or warn employees about impending collisions from heavy equipment. The data from the sensors goes to a central database and interface that managers can use to keep tabs on overall safety trends.
Similarly, the RealWear brand sells connected safety glasses with augmented reality components. When using them, people can get real-time feedback that helps them adhere to safe working practices. For example, they can access visual references of complicated procedures, look at checklists or call for support. The glasses also have a voice-recording component so people can document the processes they go through and keep their hands free.
3. Installing Integrated Building Safety Systems
IIoT is getting so advanced that many of today's buildings have numerous kinds of technology in them, all resulting in integrated safety systems.
A pilot project associated with two Houston schools illustrates the possibilities of components like panic buttons integrating with highly advanced IoT safety systems. For example, a person can press a panic button during a threatening situation, which can call both internal and external authorities.
Those schools also have smart lights that help people identify a building's safe zones and warn them of potential danger nearby. When considering any IIoT project, companies must be sure they have the proper power supplies to handle the transition. For example, it may be necessary to install industrial-grade electrical receptacles to help such projects go smoothly.
Integrated building safety systems are more in demand now due to the rising occurrences of tragedies like school shootings. But, they'll likely become more prevalent at manufacturing plants, too. After all, some warehouses are tremendous in terms of size. The February 2019 incident at an Illinois manufacturing plant where a gunman killed five of his fellow employees is a sobering reminder of how manufacturers need to think seriously about such safety solutions.
4. Continuing to Focus on IIoT Security to Ensure Safety
Even the most advanced IIoT systems may remain vulnerable to threats from cybercriminals. That's why manufacturing companies must always incorporate cybersecurity into their safety checks. Some sources believe companies within the manufacturing sector and otherwise must make IIoT cybersecurity a priority.
If they don't, there's a possibility of connected equipment malfunctioning and causing harm to people nearby. Additionally, if hackers gain access to connected machinery and make it behave in ways that are undetectable for a while, they could cause the equipment to make defective equipment. That possibility also compromises safety.
For these reasons and others, IIoT security is a top trend to watch in 2019, and it will likely remain essential for the foreseeable future. An increasing number of manufacturing companies and enterprises from other sectors are starting to realize overlooking security could substantially hinder their IIoT investments and negatively affect safety.
5. Relying on Industrial Robots That Aren't in Cages
When most people think of industral robotics, they envision a gigantic machine confined to a cage so it can move without potentially harming humans. Those robots still exist, but frequently get supplemented with other options. For example, Veo Robotics developed a system that uses computer vision, sensors and artificial intelligence to help large industrial robots work around humans without cages.
The technology costs $30,000, and it gives the robots spatial awareness of all objects and obstacles within their paths. If the machine gets closer than the desired protective separation distance from a human or something perceived as such, it stops. This technology aims to eliminate any accidents involving machine-human collisions, and it could give more flexibility to manufacturing companies that want people to work alongside robots without the risk of getting hurt.
A company that manufactures consumer tools benefited from another way humans and machines can safely work together. It invested in cobots. Those machines, made to work alongside people, automatically slow down or stop when someone gets too close. The business' production efficiency increased by 30% once it started using cobots, as well.
6. Using Location-Based Analytics and Real-Time Location Systems for Improved IIoT Safety
Industries such as health care use real-time location systems (RTLS) to track assets and people. However, a company called Kontakt.io has a platform called Simon AI that brings sensor technology and RTLS to the industrial sector, too. One of the primary uses of the system is to determine when people enter and leave the workplace.
But, from a safety point of view, Simon AI has other notable features. For example, it can give warnings if unauthorized people walk into restricted areas. Or, the technology can connect to a panic button that lets individuals summon aid and send assistance to their exact location. Then, if an evacuation occurs, the technology shows how many people reached the designated safe meeting points, and if anyone got left behind.
Checking to see if people are where they should be at a particular point in time is an integral part of keeping them safe. Systems that provide supervisors with location-based data from RTLS help them verify their employees are staying out of harm's way.
An Exciting Future
Diverse technologies are becoming available that align with the connected nature of the IIoT and help prevent accidents or other catastrophes. Safety should be a primary concern when implementing any IIoT technology, and the trends here demonstrate safety can become the central goal with some of the new products that are on the market or will be soon.