by Bob Violino

How IoT is fueling digital transformations

May 28, 202011 mins
Digital TransformationInternet of Things

Sanmina, Michelin, and Hudl share how the internet of things has reshaped their businesses, providing real-time insights into business processes and new connected services customers can count on.

businessman holding virtual interface iot internet of things icon network connection abstract globe
Credit: ipopba / Getty Images

For a growing number of companies, the internet of things (IoT) has moved past the experimental phase and is now entrenched in vital business processes, providing a competitive edge across a variety of sectors.

For example, there’s Sanmina, a producer of integrated manufacturing equipment, which has leveraged connected sensors and the cloud to improve the performance of its factories while also addressing IoT data security challenges.

Tire maker Michelin has used IoT to gain greater visibility into its supply chain, tracking sea-freight containers in real-time and improving customer satisfaction in the process.

And Hudl, which provides video tools that enable coaches and athletes to more effectively review game performance, has figured out ways to use IoT to automate video processing.

Examples such as these show how IoT can address specific needs and challenges companies face — and deliver benefits to their customers. Here’s how these three organizations are putting IoT to work in facilitating digital transformations.

Sanmina: Boosting factory performance and product quality

Integrated manufacturing equipment maker Sanmina began its IoT journey in 2016. The company wanted to increase the overall equipment effectiveness (OEE) of its production equipment at its factory in Fermoy, Ireland. OEE is an industry-standard metric of how well a manufacturing facility is used compared with its full potential during the periods when it’s scheduled to run.

Sanmina also wanted the factory’s manufacturing lines to be “fully lights out,” producing one unit every second, says Rajeev Gollarahalli, chief business officer at 42Q, a division of the company.

Sanmina’s IoT system involves multiple technologies that work in tandem. Its homegrown 42Q cloud manufacturing execution system (MES), running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud, is the backbone, Gollarahalli says. Also included are sensors to monitor and adjust the environment to maintain extremely tight controls on the ambient temperature and humidity, and cloud-based artificial intelligence (AI) platforms from AWS and Google.

The company also relies on computerized maintenance management systems that uses data collected from IoT devices mounted on assets, to schedule maintenance and calibration of machines.

In addition to its OEE efforts, the factory needed real-time views and replenishments of raw materials to ensure there were no delays in material supply. IoT-enabled automated vehicles deliver the material from the warehouse to the shop floor just in time for production, and then alert operators when the delivery of material is completed, Gollarahalli says.

As a result of its IoT deployments, the Ireland factory increased the OEE of production equipment and manufacturing lines, and achieved seamless replenishment of raw materials on its shop floor, thereby eliminating delays in material supply, Gollarahalli says.

The company in 2017 launched another IoT initiative, this time involving the manufacture of complex charging systems at its factory in Guadalajara, Mexico. The process required the integration of more than 30 industrial robots from Kuka Robotics into the cloud MES, in order to ensure accurate assembly and data collection from the devices being manufactured.

The checks required during the manufacturing process are numerous, including component and top-level flow checks, automatic screw torque measurement using sensors mounted on the robots, and data ingested using HTTP protocols and Modbus — a de facto standard communication protocol commonly used for connecting industrial electronic devices.

The middleware used to connect and talk to the robots is a custom product built by 42Q, Gollarahalli says. “Sanmina collects roughly 500,000 pieces of discrete and distinct data per day from the robots, and the aggregated data is used for data analytics to improve the real-time decision-making models deployed on the line to control quality,” he says.

Deploying IoT at the Mexico factory ensured accurate assembly and data collection from the charging stations devices, Gollarahalli says, and led to an improvement of the equipment OEE by 12 percent. It also helped increase capacity by more than 10 percent while reducing the types of defects by more than 8 percent.

To date, Sanmina has connected 25,000 pieces of manufacturing equipment at different sites around the world, allowing software to collect data directly from machines, control production, and proactively request engineering intervention when required.

One of the biggest challenges with IoT is security, Gollarahalli says. “While the issue of securing the data that is collected is an obvious challenge, IoT devices can become the gateway to gain entry into the corporate networks,” he says. “This is in some ways a larger concern and needs sophisticated network configurations as well as authentication technologies to deter hackers from gaining access.”

Other challenges include the ability to ingest and process high volumes of streaming data used to make near real-time decisions on the shop floor. This can be addressed with a combination of edge computing and sophisticated data compression and transmission techniques, Gollarahalli says.

Michelin: Gaining supply chain visibility

The supply chain department at tire manufacturer Michelin, in partnership with IoT service provider Sigfox and consulting firm Argon Consulting, launched an IoT system to track sea-freight containers in real-time.

“Customer satisfaction is essential for us, and we wanted to be able to give our customers accurate, real-time information on the whereabouts of their shipments at any given time,” says Pascal Zammit, senior vice president of Business Venture Connected Mobility at Michelin.

But getting this kind of visibility into the global supply chain was extremely difficult, Zammit says. “An international shipment can be subject to over 200 interactions, and something like if a container misses its loading slot on a ship and has to wait for space on the next available vessel can lead to a week’s delay in goods reaching their final destination,” he says.

In addition, the majority of goods in transit are supported financially by Michelin, so on-time deliveries are vital to ensuring a healthy cash flow for the business, Zammit says.

“Before the IoT initiative, we started using information coming from digital platforms,” Zammit says. “We improved our supply chain by putting in place classical Sigma-type approaches. But the data quality was not strong enough to achieve the levels of customer satisfaction and inventory we targeted, especially in case of exceptional hazards” such as ice and storms.

Because of that, the department turned to IoT. “We wanted to find an affordable and sustainable solution to consistently track containers and give customers the best experience and most accurate possible information,” Zammit says.

The group worked with Argon to research existing IoT trackers and technology and to find ways it could develop and optimize the tools for its specific use cases. Quality and location accuracy were key drivers, Zammit says.

Michelin ships more than 150,000 containers a year, Zammit says, so when it started to consider IoT offerings the company had two major requirements: The tracking systems had to be affordable and sustainable, using little energy.

While there’s no lack of tracking products on the market, many come at a high price per device and demand a lot of energy, Zammit says. So these weren’t ideal. Other challenges with existing tracking products included a short battery life and difficulty transmitting from the inside of a container.

Sigfox, an international low-power network provider, was able to supply Michelin with affordable trackers as well as connectivity in each of the countries the company operates in. The company’s dedicated, low-bandwidth wireless network is specifically designed to connect simple, low-powered and low-cost IoT devices to the internet.

The department worked with the two companies to design and develop the IoT system, including the algorithm that would enable the trackers to detect physical movement. As a result, the system was able to report specific actions such as the loading or unloading of shipments, as well as monitor container conditions such as temperature and humidity.

Connecting IoT devices to the network allows the transmission of small amounts of data over long ranges. This enables Michelin to get the IoT-enabled insights it needs at a significantly lower cost than traditional networks.

With the IoT system, the department is able to view the status of shipments and get notifications of specific events. The time and cost savings have been “considerable,” Zammit says, and Michelin has seen a positive impact on customer satisfaction. The tracking system has led to a 10 percent reduction of on-sea inventory and a 40 percent increase in estimated time of arrival accuracy

The system is also scalable and reusable, with most devices lasting up to four years. “This is important for international shippers, since containers aren’t always easily accessed and devices can’t always be easily changed,” Zammit says.

Hudl: Automating sports video processing

Hudl is a company that provides tools for coaches and athletes to review game footage to improve team play. One of the company’s products, a smart camera called Hudl Focus, is using an IoT system enabled by the Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud to automate the recording and uploading of games to the Hudl platform.

“One of the biggest pain points we hear from coaches is finding someone to record the game and then getting the video uploaded to Hudl,” says Joel Hensley, engineering director at Hudl.

In January 2018, the company began development on Hudl Focus to bring a smart, connected camera to high schools across the country, taking advantage of the advancements in Nvidia Jetson — a series of embedded computing boards from Nvidia — along with Amazon’s IoT service.

It then released a limited beta version to high school basketball teams followed by a broader release in 2019.

The camera has multiple lenses to capture a 180-degree field of view and generates a zoomed-in view that follows the play for basketball and volleyball teams. Coaches can then use the Hudl Focus mobile app to remotely control the camera. The communication back and forth between the camera is powered by Amazon’s IoT service.

The mobile app communicates with Hudl’s application programming interface (API) and Hudl’s back-end systems integrate with AWS IoT via a software development kit from Amazon. The camera then uses a Python service running within Ubuntu to connect to Amazon IoT.

“In addition to starting and stopping the camera via IoT, we use IoT to roll out software updates to the cameras as well as store device configurations and system settings,” Hensley says.

Amazon IoT “removes a lot of the heavy lifting required for communicating back and forth with a physical device that may or may not be online at any given moment,” Hensley says. “This allows us to spend more time developing value-added features for our coaches and not building the foundational elements.”

Coaches benefit from the resiliency IoT provides, so that even if the camera is offline a coach can schedule a game and as soon as the camera comes back online it will process the message and make sure the game is recorded.

One of the newest features provided by AWS IoT that Hudl is using is Secure Tunneling, which enables Hull to use secure shell — a cryptographic network protocol — to access a device in a remote environment if it needs to perform any troubleshooting or maintenance.