Nick Bierbrodt on breaking down the IoT implementation process

Nick Bierbrodt on breaking down the IoT implementation process

The RSM US executive shares why manufacturing organisations should take a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to IoT deployment

Rebecca Gibson |

The inte rnet of things (IoT) has become a mainstream tool for manufacturing companies wanting to monitor operational efficiency, with 65 per cent of organisations having executed an IoT strategy in 2023, according to Microsoft’s Digital Operations Signals: Industrial IoT Solution Spotlight report. 

Nick Bierbrodt, director of technology consulting at RSM US, suggests this is because IoT systems enable organisations to capture and analyse the data they need to power new technologies such as digital twins and artificial intelligence.  

“Industrial and manufacturing companies are looking to build virtual models with digital twin technology or analyse their data with AI to generate valuable insights that can be applied to make operations more efficient, but they need six to 12 months’ worth of data to do this,” says Bierbrodt. 

IoT devices play a key part in helping organisations to collect this data, but only if they implement it properly.  

“Most companies have a basic understanding of IoT, mainly using it to count workers, machines, equipment and products in a production line,” says Bierbrodt. “However, this data is often not effectively integrated into their systems and platforms, defeating the purpose of IoT, which is to give machines the ability to communicate and enhance operations. That’s where RSM US comes in; we ask what a company wants to achieve from a data collection point of view and implement the IoT platform in a way that helps them to fulfil that goal.” 

Bierbrodt advises manufacturers to adopt a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach to deploying IoT, suggesting they start with small use cases and gradually progress to larger projects.  

“Use cases within a manufacturing environment centre around automating basic tasks like installing sensors in machines to monitor temperature rises,” he explains. “Businesses can take that production information and start pushing it back into their purchasing system. This allows machines to report in real time and that’s the very start of what IoT can do.” 

To transition from the crawling to walking phase, manufacturers must analyse their data. For example, they can use real-time dashboards to follow activity on the factory floor. “Dashboards allow users to quickly understand production numbers and machine health,” says Bierbrodt. “By the time they reach the run phase, firms can make important decisions from large quantities of data that humans alone can’t handle.” 

Businesses can easily extend their IoT systems by investing in various sensors that measure temperature, humidity, motion, pressure and more.  

“Sensors are the basic tools that are used to deploy an IoT system and start collecting data,” says Bierbrodt. “Manufacturers can use Microsoft Azure IoT Hub as a gateway for all data coming in from these sensors and direct the information to the right data sets so it can be analysed correctly.” 

To have a solid grasp of IoT fundamentals, organisations should prioritise sensor selection, data storage and security before expanding their system to accommodate more devices, users and data. 

“Scaling IoT devices and selecting the right sensors are crucial for manufacturers,” says Bierbrodt. “Different sensors can handle varying volumes and types of data, so manufacturers need to consider which ones will be best suited to their requirements.”  

Operating hundreds or thousands of IoT devices vastly increases the risk of manufacturing organisations falling victim to cyberattacks, so Bierbrodt advises they prioritise security at the start of any implementation. “Security is not meant to be an afterthought,” he says. “If you don’t put the appropriate amount of planning in ahead of time during a technology implementation, your whole project is doomed to fail, especially because an IoT device is the easiest hole to get into a company.”  

As more manufacturers begin to implement IoT strategies, RSM US encourages them to continue with a ‘crawl, walk, run’ approach. 

“Just about any company can start dipping their toe into IoT if they want to,” says Bierbrodt. “If they want to use IoT to scan products as they come off the line, that’s an easy implementation to organise within a month. However, if they want to start rolling out data analysis, that’s where we really need to start looking at their overall data architecture. At RSM, we can help firms to perhaps begin with a three- or four-device rollout and then we keep slowly building on to that. That’s the nice part about IoT, it’s not just a ‘let’s do it and we’re done’ project; it’s very easy to build on to achieve the required level of data analytics needed to be successful.” 

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Technology Record. To get future issues delivered directly to your inbox, sign up for a free subscription. 

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