Examining the Internet of Things in Manufacturing

Jan 26, 2018

Last week, the House Energy and Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Disrupter Series: The Internet of Things, Manufacturing and Innovation.” As devices become increasingly connected and the “Internet of Things” (IoT) continues to grow, manufacturers are adapting to the new technology, positioning themselves so they are best able to take advantage of the benefits while protecting themselves and their customers from potential malpractice. In a world of connected devises, it is important for manufacturers to develop and implement new best practices for manufacturing processes to ensure that information and increased connectivity is being used for good and that consumer privacy is protected.

As Chairman Latta explained in his opening remarks, “Utilizing IoT and other emerging technologies like augmented reality, workers will be able to virtually make adjustments to industrial systems to understand how to improve efficiency, and then implement necessary changes, without interrupting the manufacturing process.” This increased manufacturing efficiency will provide customers with greater choice at lower costs, but requires industry to rethink the way it currently does business to accommodate the augmented.

One of the witnesses, ASME Member Dr. Thomas Kurfess, Professor and Chair in Fluid Power and Motion Control, George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology, and a former ASME Foundation Swanson Fellow who previously served at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), elaborated on the benefits of IoT for manufacturing. He explained that along with increased productivity, IoT will create safer workplaces with additional “sensors and monitoring” and higher paying jobs for American workers. But to truly take advantage of the manufacturing opportunities IoT creates, a well trained workforce competent in this new high-tech environment is essential. Dr. Kurfess goes on to say that “Programs such as Manufacturing USA that bring together collaborative teams from industry, government and academe are not only bringing the Internet of Things into the manufacturing world, they are strengthening U.S. manufacturing capabilities by engaging highly diverse and technically savvy teams to rapidly deploy next generation capabilities to our manufacturing operations.”

Efficiency is a major benefit of IoT, and manufacturing workers stand to benefit the most from increased integration of technology and data into the traditional manufacturing environment. As automation becomes more prevalent, workers’ responsibilities will grow and evolve to best utilize these technology as a tool for increased output. Dr. Kurfess noted that while robots are extremely beneficial to manufacturing, they will never fully replace human workers. As IoT informs automation, workers will continue to transition from dangerous, repetitive work, to more technical and thought-provoking aspects of the manufacturing process.

Along these lines, the witnesses highlighted the importance of continuous training in this transition. Each witness testified to the growing importance of instilling a culture of lifelong learning in the manufacturing workforce and discussed the elements  of a winning workforce development strategy: one that not only focus on building the technical workforce of the future, but one that also invests in retraining and up-skilling current employees. Dr. Kurfess noted that in the manufacturing environments he’s observed, workers are excited to learn and eager to adopt new technologies. Policies and programs should build on this enthusiasm and new, innovative teaching techniques, such as incorporating VR into on-the-job training, should become common practice on the shop floor.

Testimony presented by Dr. Kurfess is available to view at: https://energycommerce.house.gov/hearings/disrupter-series-internet-things-manufacturing-innovation/