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IoT is changing the glass fabrication process
John Staiano
August 22, 2019
COMMERCIAL, RETAIL, FABRICATION

The term Internet of Things, or IoT, is increasingly bandied about in the glass industry. But what does it actually mean? According to Merriam-Webster, IoT is “the networking capability that allows information to be sent to and received from objects and devices (such as fixtures and kitchen appliances) using the internet.” For glass companies, this means implementing smart, automated and connected equipment and software solutions from the factory floor to the front office to the jobsite. 

Implementing IoT into a glass process can be intimidating. It can be complicated, confusing and expensive. However, each step a glass fabricator takes to bring IoT into their factory takes them one closer to a fully integrated glass factory ready to meet the challenges of Industry 4.0. With the right partners, plans and steps, a company can overcome the IoT intimidation factor to develop the glass factory of the future. 

To help fabricators meet the challenges, let’s break down several ways IoT will affect a glass factory.

Inventory tracking and management

IoT can transform how companies track and manage their inventory. Glass fabricators store and track hundreds to thousands of different sheets of glass on a daily basis. Harnessing big data so it works is the key to tracking and managing inventory. 

By harnessing big data, a company can analyze every aspect of the business from inventory and sales to production and delivery. These insights can show both the strengths and weaknesses in a process. No matter the size of the company or how many sites it operates, data analytics provide the logic to make informed decisions to improve processes and profitability.

Smartphones

The ubiquitous smartphone is changing how factories operate. Currently, many companies use industrial scanners, but those days are nearing their end. 

By utilizing smartphones, users replace specialized, expensive hardware with familiar mobile devices used daily. This means less training. 

Smartphones can also be used to photograph stencils and email them to production, who can convert them into CAD files. By using a smartphone in this way, a company can shorten the time from dream to delivery for customers.

Sensors and predictive maintenance

Sensors placed strategically on the factory floor can allow fabricators to track and trace each individual sheet or batch along the entire production chain. This means no more time-consuming searching of documents, emails, scans, photos, customer notes, etc., because those items are linked to the order and displayed automatically within the production or business software. 

Additionally, constant communication between different productive elements of the factory, from the floor to the front office, allows for greater collaboration and productivity on multiple levels. Consider maintenance, for example. As sensors collect data, they can assist in spotting equipment maintenance needs. Product manufacturers can utilize information from these sensors to predict wear and repair needs. 

Speed, reliability, accessibility and efficiency

Speed is a vital aspect of consumer satisfaction in this post-Amazon world. However, speed is of little use without reliable data that is also accessible. When data is reliable, accessible and quick to retrieve, it makes the job of a glass fabricator more efficient. 

With each IoT development, workers will be able to accomplish larger-scale tasks in less time and with greater precision. 

Automation and worker shortage

IoT takes current automation standards to the next level, which will be essential in helping fabricators address the ongoing labor shortage and in helping companies meet the needs of a cyclical industry with high- and low-demand months. 

As IoT evolves, a factory network could increase or decrease production based on trends spotted through orders, sales volume, website traffic or something else. This real-time data can then influence employee schedules, inventory orders, delivery dates, shipping routes, etc.

E-commerce

Customers—due to the “Amazon effect”—demand flexibility and transparency during their buying process. E-commerce software can sit on top of an existing ERP system, pull data, and display feature-rich graphics that include a self-service capability, which gives customers direct control when ordering. Through web-enabled access and a simple, step-by-step user format, e-commerce software makes it easy and more convenient for customers to do business 24/7 with a fabricator, on any device, from anywhere they choose.

Storing in the cloud

Maybe not the smallest step but an effective one, storing in the cloud allows for easier access to data by everyone at any company site or remote location. By storing in the cloud, company sites can turn a one-site project into a collaborative effort. Cloud storage can also enable workers to share solutions between sites, increasing efficiency and saving time. 

Data security

We work in a data-rich environment with more and more data at our fingertips. With so much data available, business owners should ask themselves where this data will be stored, how it will be stored and how secure it is. Security in the storage of this data is essential to preventing thieves (i.e., hackers) from stealing the data. Work with a trusted industry leader in glass software and data storage to develop an action plan for your business. 

John Staiano is chief operating officer of A+W Software North America. He can be reached at john.staiano@a-w.com.