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The Internet of Making Things

The Internet of Making Things WIRED


Smart, Internet-connected “things” are showing up everywhere, changing our interactions with friends, family, colleagues, and nearly every aspect of the physical world. Internet of Things (IoT) discussions often center on the home, where your refrigerator communicates with your phone reminding you to buy milk when the carton is nearly – but not completely – empty; and your sneakers tell your watch how many calories you’ve burned in your morning workout.

While these applications are interesting and exciting, there is even more potential in the factory of the (very near) future. I like to call the emerging connections between machines, tools, materials, people and systems on the shop floor the Internet of Making Things.

Today’s factory bears little resemblance to the stereotypical image of manufacturing. Long gone are the days of repetitious assembly lines where workers create part after identical part. Today’s modern manufacturing facility is a hub of technology, full of sensors, electronic controls, and automated equipment, all interconnected to drive efficiency, quality and flexibility that are vital to a company’s success.

Productivity in American factories continues to rise, as plants produce more and more with ever increasing efficiency and quality. Connected tools and machines are a key aspect of these gains. Take the IP (Internet Protocol) torque wrench (shown above) in the assembly of a complex part, for example. When connected to the cloud, the IP torque wrench captures the torque applied to a specific part, the specific wrench that was used, when that wrench was last calibrated and the employee who used it. If that wrench was faulty in some way, the cloud can identity every part affected, eliminating costly downtime.

Automation and the connected factory are able to produce a wider variety of products and product variations in smaller quantities more quickly, answering the market’s increasing demand for customized products. The old-style “economies of scale” that powered mass-produced consumer goods are being replaced by fast, efficient and flexible connected machines that follow the exact requirements for each product at each moment of its production.

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