How the industrial IoT is creating a safer workforce

Mikael Schachne of BICS

“The robots will steal our jobs!” has become a well-worn cry in recent years, as the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and automation gain traction. And gain traction they have, says Mikael SchachneCMO and VP Mobility and IoT Business, BICS.

According to The Internet of Manufacturing, half of all production processes now use IoT, while 86% of manufacturers have adopted IIoT solutions. However, most businesses in industrial sectors (such as automotive and logistics) are not connectivity experts. As such, to unlock the benefits of the IIoT, many will require a straightforward means of setting up and managing connectivity.

The reasons manufacturers are harnessing the IIoT are clear. These include automating processes and driving efficiencies, as well as gaining deeper insight and improving operations via data. But for workers, the benefits can be less apparent.

Amid a climate of fear surrounding job losses, it is easy to see how workers might be hesitant about the adoption of industry 4.0. However, the advent of IIoT can help to significantly improve the lives of workers in both the short and long term. At the same time, it can fuel benefits for businesses.

One critical area where industrial IoT will enhance workers’ lives is safety. According to the US National Safety Council, every seven seconds a worker is injured on the job. In 2018 alone, this resulted in the loss of 103,000,000 production days due to injury.

The research cites the top three workplace injury events as overexertion, contact with objects and equipment, and slips, trips and falls. The vast majority of these can be easily prevented. This is where the IIoT comes in.

Robots to augment movement

With recent advancements in smart technology, the leading cause of injury overexertion is now being addressed head on. Earlier this year, German Bionic launched the world’s first connected exoskeleton. The Cray X is designed to support and enhance the wearer’s movements when lifting heavy items.

Thanks to IoT-connected sensors embedded in the suit, data from the Cray X is transmitted to smart factory systems and software. Using machine learning, the exoskeleton then learns the movements of its user and adapts to their needs.

The data insights also enable businesses to analyse employee’s lifting behaviour. With this information, they can identify where improvements can be made on both an individual and company-wide level. With the World Health Organisation citing musculoskeletal conditions as the leading contributor to disability worldwide, this could have health benefits for millions of workers.

Sensors for safety

As IBM notes, “IoT excels at keeping an eye on things; collecting data by means of connected sensors that help us understand our working environment.” Let’s see how this could play out in reality. Connected sensors in a factory, for example, can allow manufacturers to monitor workers’ exposure to harsh conditions such as heat or humidity.

Workers could then be alerted to potential threats in real time. In the event of an accident, alerts can be triggered immediately, enabling aid to be dispatched quickly.

Driving value from connectivity

These are just some of the many examples of how IIoT can enhance worker safety. As the technology gains momentum, we’re set to see more innovation in robotics, wearables and industrial spaces. This benefits both companies and their employees, and also extends to the telco community.

Mobile operators can unlock new revenue streams by providing the connectivity that ultimately underpins IIoT. It is this connectivity that ultimately makes it possible to connect sensors in ‘things’ to business systems and the cloud. Employers can then access this data and provide valuable intelligence to enhance workforce operations.

Connectivity, however, is the crucial part of the IIoT puzzle. Most industrial organisations lack the technical know-how and toolsets to connect assets themselves. This is where connectivity providers can step in. Connectivity must be secured, seamless, easily manageable and embeddable into any ‘thing’. It must allow assets to remain connected wherever they travel. This will allow even the most traditional of industrial firms and their workers to benefit.

Marrying the business benefits of IIoT with advantages for employees will help to optimise the success of IIoT strategies. Ultimately, this will help create a more productive, safer and happier workforce.

The author is Mikael Schachne, CMO and VP Mobility and IoT Business at BICS.

Comment on this article below or via Twitter: @IoTNow_OR @jcIoTnow

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