What do a fridge, car windows and a chastity belt have in common? I thought this a great line to capture your attention. So how are these three apparently unrelated products linked to something called the “Internet of Things”? Let’s start with the fridge.
The fridge is the overrated example that appears in most articles on the internet of things. Fridges that automatically alert you, or even the shop, that food is expired or finished is not earth shattering, or even very useful. The extra time you put in setting up the rules and taking action on alerts is probably not worth the effort. Still this ‘connected fridge’ seems to be the figure head of the internet of things. Personally I think it is silly example, and lacks imagination.
The car window, and the manufacturing of it, might be a more interesting way of showing how the internet of things changes the world. Manufacturing the rubber bands around a car window, for example, requires several parties to synchronize. The window encapsulation (fancy name for the rubber band) needs to be designed. The design then serves to build the manufacturing machine, which is programmed to replicate the design and is fed raw material (polyurethane).
A worker operates the machine, which spews out the rubber window bands in large quantities. The designer, the machine builder, the raw materials vendor and the machine operator work for different companies, and they need to collaborate to ensure the process runs smoothly. But things occasionally go wrong. Just one hour of ‘downtime’ can wreak havoc in the supply chain. Lawyers and engineers fight epic battles over Service Level Agreements, and not meeting them, and everything costs tons of money.
Enter the blame game. Was the root cause of the ‘down time’ the machine operator? Or the polyurethane mix? Or the design? Or the machine setup? Lots of troubleshooting, testing, reporting and many man hours later, the process is cleared out, but at considerable expense for all parties involved. This window encapsulation process is just one example of how complex manufacturing and supply chain processes can be, and what the cost is if these processes fail.
So what if we could make this manufacturing process more intelligent, by adding sensors to machines, to the operations and even to detect the condition of the raw material? And what if we could share this intelligence with all parties in a standard format, through the internet? The outcome would be a smarter process, avoiding down time and driving efficiencies. And when things do go wrong, it will be easier to track the root cause of the failure. The results are less troubleshooting and less playing the blame game, but also capturing valuable information on how to make processes more efficient. The bottom line, the internet of things in manufacturing environments saves costs, and drives innovation.
And there are more inspired examples of the internet of things, like underwear with chemical sensors in their elastic waistbands. Military experts are thinking of using them to monitor soldiers’ health. But a cooler example is having underpants that can measure if they are on or off, and for how long. Fathers can finally sleep soundly knowing their smart phones will alert them if their teenage daughters are without pants for too long a time. At a recent BBQ this development chimed well with many fathers who have young daughters. I think this just goes to show technology may change everything… but ancient instincts are alive and kicking.