The Internet of Things (IoT) has already vastly changed the business landscape. It allows for a network of smart devices and technology to communicate, which improves efficiency and productivity.
But the next step is including automation into the mix. Automation and IoT arguably go hand-in-hand and will arguably mark the next major revolution in production.
So, how does automation IoT work and what will it do to the way businesses function?
What is Automation?
Automation refers to making processes automatic (not based on human interaction). As a concept, business process automation has existed for a long time in the form of production robots.
Typically, it’s used to automate simple or repetitive tasks. This helps to increase efficiency, reduce costs, and to free people up for more complicated tasks.
You can check out this video for more details on what we mean by automation:
Some examples of standard business automation processes include:
Automating the onboarding process usually requires distributing forms, collecting data, and organizing training sessions. While these are fairly straightforward jobs, they’re also repetitive.
Removing the human element makes little difference to the employee. However, it means HR professionals can get on with their jobs rather than giving out and collecting forms.
Purchase orders happen regularly for pretty much any business. Filling out forms, getting approval, and sending them off are again simple tasks, but they’re repetitive.
This makes them prime territory for automation. Not only does it streamline things, it helps with issues like over/under ordering, data recording, and overall accountability.
Automation and IoT
So, how do automation and IoT fit together? Well, if you’re familiar with the basic premise of IoT, the link should be obvious.
IoT involves connecting a range of devices up to the same internet network. Within businesses, this includes sensors, monitors, actuators, stock data, and sales data.
In short, IoT in business boils down to data, and lots of it. However, converting this data into actionable information is still a manual process. In turn, it requires manual adjustment on the production and logistical fronts.
But this is where automation IoT comes in. Hooking automated processes up to the same network allows them to capitalize on the data and make adjustments without human intervention.
What does this look like in real terms?
Example 1: Stock orders
IoT sensors already provide businesses with information on which products they sell or use the most. This information then triggers alerts telling them when they need to set up a new order.
But, as mentioned above, this is an area where automation already helps out. So, connecting sensors and purchasing software to the same network can automate the whole process. Therefore, automation and IoT go together very well for something as repetitive and mundane as stock ordering.
Granted, it would still require human intervention in the form of review and approval, at least while the systems are in development. Once they’re fully streamlined, though, there’s no reason why a human would still need to review and approve automatic orders.
Example 2: Goods production
Factory production is already a largely automated process. Whether we’re thinking of food, tech goods, or vehicles, robots do most of the work.
In factories that produce various parts of the same product, automation IoT would be vital. While this form of production isn’t usually the case for things like cars and computers, it’s very common in food production.
Automation and IoT would go hand-in-hand in these settings, though.
For example, you have a factory that produces ready meals. These are made from various components that need to be combined in the final stages. Having the desired quantities ready and waiting is relatively complex.
But by including IoT sensors and data, the balancing act becomes automatic. The machines would know when there’s too much (or not enough) of one product and could adjust production to suit.
Example 3: Smart cities
There are plenty of processes that would benefit from automation and IoT in cities. These range from parking sensors and public transport to park irrigation.
For example, back in 2014, Barcelona introduced automation IoT technology to manage its parking spots. The sensors created a network that showed available parking spaces and automatically marked them as taken.
Within a year, this generated an extra $50 million in parking revenue and created 47,000 new jobs.
The Benefits of Automation IoT
The combination of automation and IoT offers numerous benefits to businesses. Of course, not all these will apply to every business, as automation takes different forms.
Generally, though, the main benefits of automation IoT include:
1. Increased operational efficiency
Supply chain and asset management benefit from an automated network based on real data. This ranges from tracking stock using RFID tags to counting stock using a network of sensors.
Introducing automation and IoT into the mix helps to manage and collate this data, flag errors as alerts, and perform the tasks much faster.
2. Improved safety
Human error is an unavoidable issue. Well, it was until automation came along. Equipping potentially hazardous devices and processes with sensors helps to catch issues much earlier than human monitoring.
Similarly, automating the production and storage of perishable goods helps to keep everything compliant (for example, with temperature thresholds) and to create early warning systems.
Utilizing automation and IoT could help to create systems that manage hazards without any human involvement.
3. Less waste
The above benefits both lead to less waste, but another way to conceptualize this benefit is in a particular industry. For example, agriculture.
Crop farmers could benefit from automation IoT through everything from crop dusting to drone monitoring. A company called Guardian Agriculture has already created autonomous drones that do exactly these jobs.
Not only does this improve efficiency but it also results in less waste. This is because issues such as crop infestations are caught much earlier and dealt with on a smaller scale.
4. Improved building function
This benefit applies to almost any business space. Using automation and IoT for environmental controls, such as lighting, heating and cooling, and humidity, will help to save costs and reduce environmental impact.
For example, connecting smart thermostats to automated heating networks means you don’t have to program them.
Similarly, teaching the system various preferences would allow it to adjust the temperature when specific workers enter or leave the building. It could source this information from ID card scanners.
The Disadvantages of Automation and IoT
Generally speaking, the cons of automation IoT originate with the internet-based side of things. That said, automation IoT does come with one or two disadvantages.
1. Complex systems
IoT systems are complicated; automated systems are complicated. Combining the two is unsurprisingly even more complicated.
Installing a large-scale automated system would be challenging for businesses without the investment capital, and the same is true for maintaining them.
While it’s hoped that the systems would be failsafe, this isn’t always the case.
2. Downtime would be costly
This in itself is a disadvantage. Errors or downtime would be costly both in terms of repair and lost productivity.
For example, if a sensor that monitors temperature and humidity in a food production factory sent the wrong information to the automated HVAC system, the impact would be massive.
Because automation IoT systems are incredibly complicated, even minor errors in a single stage could lead to significant downtime.
3. Power dependence
An automated network of any scale relies on large amounts of power. And if there were to be any kind of interruption, everything would grind to a halt.
While there are strategies to mitigate the impact of a power outage, any business relying on automated processes can expect it to happen sometime.
4. Data security
IoT networks of any kind are vulnerable to external threats. This is obviously a major concern if they store sensitive data, but it’s equally concerning when you introduce automated processes.
In a best-case scenario, a hack would lead to downtime. In a worst-case one, it could result in data leaks or even a threat to welfare.
Industries and Automation
Automating processes will realistically benefit every industry. Even so, let’s take a look at some of the major driving forces of the next few years.
The IoT market in healthcare will potentially be worth $534 by 2025. Automation in healthcare ranges from reporting patient data to arranging repeat prescriptions.
Agriculture serves to benefit from automated and precise farming processes enabled by automation IoT devices. In fact, this industry could be worth $23 billion by 2022.
What is a driverless car if not an automation and IoT in a single device? Self-driving cars are shaping up to be a massive market in the coming years, providing people are willing to accept it.
The same is true for automated aircraft in the form of air taxis. This market is already booming with start-ups that are only a few years away from commercial release. Some big names include Volocopter and Lilium.
Moving Forwards with IoT and Automation
Regardless of these safety concerns, automation IoT is the future for many businesses. Considering both concepts have taken hold in their own rights, it’s only a matter of time until a combination of the two becomes commonplace.
To prepare for this future, a greater understanding of the inherent risks is vital. Automating businesses will lead to increased productivity and safety, but at what cost?