The convergence of two technology trends is set to transform the manufacturing industry. The Internet of Things (IoT) is entering the mainstream, with sensors and related technology becoming affordable for almost anyone. At the same time, we are seeing blockchain technology mature to the point where it can be relied on for a variety of enterprise use cases. By combining these technologies, manufacturers have an opportunity to revolutionize the way products are assembled and distributed.
IoT gives a voice to products as they make their way through assembly and the supply chain. Internet connected-sensors turn a “dumb” component into a smart device that the manufacturer can monitor and interact with as it makes its way through assembly and the supply chain. Giving the device a voice enables manufacturers to streamline and automate a range of activities that would normally be handled through time-consuming, manual processes.
The revolutionary potential of IoT data
First of all, digitally enabled devices can provide manufacturers and partners with a clear view of their supply and assembly processes in real time – which makes it possible to coordinate and plan with much greater precision. In addition, connected devices can automatically alert the manufacturer to potential defects or problems during the assembly process that would otherwise have only surfaced during inspection or a breakdown later in the process. What’s more, the manufacturers can now communicate back to the internet-connected products in order to automate certain activities that previously required direct human intervention.
While these potential benefits have been technologically available for some time already, the trend is only entering the mainstream right now because the costs have fallen to a level where it makes sense for most manufacturers to leverage IoT technology. When adding internet connectivity to a product meant spending two to five times more, manufacturers had to carefully consider whether the benefits would be worthwhile. But as the price of IoT components has come down, the decision has become a “no-brainer” for most manufacturers. And as more manufacturers adopt IoT technology, they prove its value for a wider range of use cases that others can follow.
The importance of a secure and trusted network
However, internet-connected sensors are only half the equation when it comes to deploying IoT technology. On the other side, manufacturers need a secure network that enables them to communicate with the devices while preventing interference from hackers or other malicious actors. This is where IoT and blockchain technology converge.
Security has become a major challenge for internet-connected devices because their very connectivity has opened them up to a wider range of attacks and manipulations. This is where blockchain’s distributed ledger technology provides a crucial foundation for IoT devices to share reliable data with a range of users. Because the data is tracked on a decentralized platform instead of a single database, it becomes much harder for any individual user to manipulate. And this level of reliability is built into blockchain technology, which allows manufacturers to avoid the expense of additional protection and oversight.
The decentralized aspect of blockchain technology also makes it an ideal foundation for sharing information between manufacturers, partners and even end customers. The fact that the ledger is distributed adds a layer of trust that direct reporting cannot match. Instead of being forced to trust reports from one supplier or factory, you now have dozens or hundreds of other parties telling you the data is reliable, which allows manufacturers to operate with a much greater degree of confidence. This trust can also be shared with partners and customers to add a higher level of service.
Integrating with the Internet of Things
With internet-connected devices and blockchain technology becoming widely accessible to manufacturers, there is still one more hurdle to overcome. Blockchain on its own is just the technological backbone: enterprises need a way to connect to that technology in order to interact and get value from it. This means integrating the blockchain technology with the applications and platforms enterprises already use – such as Salesforce or SAP – to get access to the data in a format that it can use. Building integrations with existing applications gives manufacturers, and their partners and customers, a simple and easy way to access IoT data from the blockchain without the hassle of adding another system interface (let alone building one).
Adding IoT technology, and using blockchain to share the data, will soon become as common for manufacturers as automated conveyor belts or basic process optimizations. The potential benefits are so broad, and the relative costs so low, that only a small portion of manufacturers would decide the technology is not worthwhile. In the not-so-distant-future, buying a product that isn’t digitally connected will become an increasingly rare occurrence.
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