In recent years, the IT and telecom industry has tried hard to convince all other industry verticals about the transformative potential of the internet of things (IoT) and machine-to-machine (M2M) technology. The ability of machines to directly transmit and report information regarding location, status, usage statistics and error messages can help companies across all industry segments achieve business efficiency. The manufacturing industry in particular can make good use of M2M technology to make the process of producing goods quicker and more efficient. Radio frequency identification and M2M technologies can come together to offer significant opportunities for subsectors ranging from aerospace to oil and gas to electronics across applications like inventory management, shipping and delivery, tracking parts, work-in-progress and employee data.

IoT in manufacturing

IT adoption in the Indian manufacturing segment has grown significantly over the years. However, a similar response cannot be seen in the uptake of IoT/M2M services, which remains limited to certain manufacturing sub-verticals.

The automobile industry had taken up these technologies early on. There is a significant shift towards making information flow in an automated and seamless manner through the deployment of M2M technology. For instance, Mahindra & Mahindra has implemented a “digital factory” at its Chakan vehicle plant in Pune. This is a near real-time factory that uses IP connectivity for all assets, from the shop floor to the data command centre. Any disruption in the manufacturing process can quickly be identified and tracked, allowing any problems to be fixed in the least possible amount of time. Real-time control systems help in the routing and tracking of vehicles as well as quality assurance and equipment performance monitoring.

Similarly, Mahindra Reva has implemented a “connected vehicles” programme for its electric cars, primarily to keep maintenance and support costs for products sold across Asia and Europe under control. The key parameters of a vehicle and its parts are fed into a central data centre with a lifetime paid SIM card in each vehicle. Customers are also offered advanced features like the remote control of the car (locking/unlocking, switching off air conditioners, head lamps, etc.) and the prediction of battery life and drive range. Several commercial vehicle original equipment manufacturers like tractors and farm equipment are now starting similar M2M programmes for their businesses.

The fast-moving consumer goods segment is yet another one where IoT solutions are being widely deployed. Here, the major IoT drivers are supply chain management and logistics. Even though the segment is largely automated, data acquisition can bring about more optimisation in processes. For instance, Amul deploys IoT solutions for monitoring the temperature in warehouses whe­re it stores perishable commodities like curd and ice cream. Amul’s IoT partner helps the company integrate all the associated information in back-end systems and find the root cause for the variations in temperature. This information is then used to reduce spoi­lage, which actually affects the entire supply chain. Significant traction for adopting IoT solutions can also be seen in the capital goods sector, with a lot of ventilation and heater companies entering the space.

Challenges in IoT adoption

The lack of connectivity remains a key challenge in IoT uptake in India. Although 2G internet services have a high level of penetration, IoT solution pro­viders still have to make a lot of adjustments in acquiring and using data through a network. Moreover, India’s hardware ecosystem is underdeveloped in comparison with several other countries, and security issues associated with IoT/M2M are another major challenge. Most companies are likely to use the same security solutions for IoT devices being used for back-end systems. Such solutions are not highly advanced and often ensure protection only from basic infections.

The way forward

M2M/IoT represents several opportunities for India’s manufacturing industry. The policy document created by the Department of Telecommunications for M2M deployment will give a huge impetus to the enablement of automated information interchange between machines in the manufacturing industry.