In the real Internet of Things, industry will outsmart socks

Just add a chip to your socks, egg trays and even the cat's water bowl and it will become instantly smart

The ever growing list of “smart devices” now available to consumers is starting to make a lot of people question what really qualifies as “smart”. Consumers can now buy smart socks, smart egg trays and even smart water bowls for cats – just add a chip to your dumb idea and it will instantly transform it into a smart one.

In case you are wondering if those products are real, check out We Put A Chip In It, a website that pokes fun at the all-too- serious offspring of the latest tech bubble. It makes you wonder if the promise of the Internet of Things, with its forecast of more than 60 billion connected devices by 2020, is sometimes rather fuelling investment in solutions in search of problems than the other way around.

And although there will undoubtedly be a lot of useful advances for consumers, we at ABB believe that the greatest benefits to society of an Internet of Things, Services and People will more likely be found in industry. Manufacturing operations will gain a lot from technologies that improve safety, efficiency and productivity and that can link islands of automation together.

We know this because at ABB’s Switches plant in Vaasa, Finland, we produce around 3 million products a year – transfer switches, fusible switches, cam switches, enclosed switches, switch-disconnectors [have a look at our panorama]. Over the past five years the facility has been automating its operations with robots and automatic systems as we work to produce ever-higher quality products and deliver them faster than ever before.

Factory of the future, Vaasa, Finland

The facility serves as a model for future smart factories. When customers place orders they trigger real-time production, with intelligent equipment that keeps the flexible assembly lines rolling around the clock. The entire chain of events from order to delivery is fully automated.

The Vaasa plant is a great example of the huge benefits that the Internet of Things offers to companies. The factory has become much more competitive by producing higher quality products in less time.

Quality is driven by automation that has evolved to engage the factory workforce more effectively. Managers and supervisors can monitor all operations remotely in real time on their mobile devices. Production data, including any equipment malfunction alerts and information on root causes for rejections, goes straight to a human decision maker.

Our customers receive their orders faster because our median lead time is now reduced with 50% and a whopping 98% of our deliveries are on time.

In the near-future, Vaasa plans to offer customers real-time tracking of their order’s production and shipping. The plant will also soon be able to instantly start processing orders, even if they are placed at night when the human workforce is sleeping. Automated cells will begin to produce the switches overnight, test them and have them ready for sign-off and shipping by the time the morning shift arrives.

In time, many of ABB’s protection and connection products will also become smart. Not because we believe that smart is necessarily better, but because one of the basic requirements of the Internet of Things, Services and People is to have the capability to switch things on and off remotely and safely. In the long run we think this will probably benefit people more than smart socks and smart wine bottles.

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About the author

Sari Grano

I am the production manager of the ABB low voltage switch factory in Vaasa, Finland. I have been in this position for two years and 30 years in ABB. My experience covers many different areas in the factory: starting from product assembly, logistics manager to production manager. I’ve also studied in Strategic Management and Industrial Engineering in the University of Vaasa. It is important to be up to date in my profession, since change is normal status in today’s world. During the last few years, our factory has developed tremendously to improve the quality of products and service to our customers. I am very proud to be part of this and excited to tell you more about the place that I so much love.
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