The Top 20 Most Innovative and Trailblazing Industrial Companies
by Brian Buntz
The term “Industrie 4.0” heralds the coming of a new industrial revolution through smart manufacturing. The term “industrial Internet of Things” has a more muted-sounding promise of driving operational efficiencies through automation, connectivity and analytics. But the focus of IIoT — on industry at large — is broader.
Here, we take a comprehensive view, rounding up 20 IIoT leaders and pioneers, drawing on the feedback from industry analysts and consultants. The focus here is not on vendors offering, say, a cloud-based platform for monitoring industrial machines but on the companies that themselves are using IIoT technology to drive their business forward.
For the sake of this feature, we focus on organizations that use connected technology in tandem with cloud-based analytics to drive efficiencies and launch new business models. We concentrate on organizations that focus on logistics, agriculture and traditional “hard-hat” undertakings such as construction, manufacturing, mining, energy production and supply. We leave out healthcare, and smart city and smart building applications, which occasionally get lumped into the IIoT domain.
The companies on this list, presented alphabetically, are not idly boasting about the promise of IIoT to transform their business; they have already begun the transformation.
1. ABB: Smart robotics
Power and robotics firm ABB is one of the most visible to embrace the concept of predictive maintenance, using connected sensors to monitor its robots’ maintenance needs — across five continents — and trigger repair before parts break. Also related to IoT is the company’s collaborative robotics. Its YuMi model, which was designed to collaborate alongside humans, can accept input via Ethernet and industrial protocols like Profibus and DeviceNet.
2. Airbus: Factory of the Future
To say that assembling a commercial jetliner is an elaborate affair would be an understatement. Such craft have millions of components and tens of thousands of assembly steps, and the cost of mistakes during the process can be enormous. To tackle the complexity, Airbus has launched a digital manufacturing initiative known as Factory of the Future to streamline operations and bolster production capacity. The company has integrated sensors to tools and machines on the shop floor and given workers wearable technology — including industrial smart glasses — designed to reduce errors and bolster safety in the workplace. In one procedure, known as cabin-seat marking, the wearables enabled a 500% improvement in productivity while nearly eliminating errors.
3. Amazon: Reinventing warehousing
Amazon is “testing the limits of automation and human-machine collaboration.” While the company’s ambitions to use drones for delivery has won considerable media attention, the firm’s fulfillment warehouses make use of armies of Wi-Fi-connected Kiva robots. The basic idea behind the Kiva technology, which Amazon acquired for $775 million in 2012, is that it makes more sense to have robots locate shelves of products and bring them to workers rather than have employees go to the shelves to hunt for products. In 2014, the robots helped the company cut its operating costs by 20%, according to Dave Clark, a senior vice president at Amazon.
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