Archive for August 2nd, 2016



0816MEM_CoverWith the trepidation of an old dog in a new home, I strapped a Fitbit on my wrist a few months ago hoping I’d find its religion. I haven’t looked back since.

Mind you, it’s not like the activity-monitoring device has turned me into a triathlete. I’m no more an avid runner or cyclist today than I was at the beginning of the year, but I’ve certainly become more aware of my activity. My Fitbit tells me how many steps I take, how many miles I walk, how many stairs I climb, how often my heart beats, and how long and how well I sleep. It also counts the calories I burn and tells me when I’m slacking off from my daily routine so I can get back to my personal peak performance level.

With the sensing device on my wrist I’m more motivated to opt to walk up and down stairs instead of taking the escalator; I go for more frequent and longer walks than I used to; and try to get up from behind my desk now and do a little stretching every hour or so.

I won’t say that the goal of 10,000 steps daily, recommended by the American Heart Association, has become an obsession, but it’s now an objective I care about.

My Fitbit is essentially my personal Internet of Things.

Like a Fitbit for the factory floor, the industrial IoT, with its network of Internet sensors and tracking technologies, monitors the health of machines and manufacturing equipment. It detects malfunctions, deviations, and malnutrition when supplies are low.

But unlike personal devices that will track a person’s activity regardless of age or fitness level, it’s not always easy to connect or retrofit plant equipment in a way for it to embrace and engage the IoT. Connecting a Fitbit or other similar health tracking device to its enabling software is a lot easier than connecting a milling machine to the cloud.

In some cases, it isn’t even that the equipment is too old to connect to sensors. Some equipment as young as 20 or even 10 years old can’t easily be hooked up to monitoring sensors and connect it to the Internet. Some manufacturers also fear that sensors can occasionally be finicky and make plant equipment difficult to troubleshoot.

That said, a recent IC Market Drivers report projected that worldwide systems revenues for applications connecting to the IoT will nearly double between 2015 and 2019, and could be more than $124 billion by 2020.

The report, which is published by IC Insights, a semiconductor market research company, said that during that same time period, new connections to the IoT could grow from about 1.7 billion in 2015 to nearly 3.1 billion in 2019.

Ultimately, the business case for the IoT is there: Reduce manufacturing costs and improve ROI, and that’s true even in cases when investments are necessary to retrofit equipment.

I’ve lost 10 pounds since I’ve been wearing my tracking device, so I’ve seen the ROI of being connected. But like some manufacturing equipment, I too get a little finicky, especially on those days when my Fitbit is telling me something I don’t want to know.

The Editor

John G. Falcioni is Editor-in-Chief of Mechanical Engineering magazine, the flagship publication of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.

August 2016

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