Is The Internet of Things on Your Company Holiday List?

David Vermeulen

Smart phones, smart watches, smart vacuums, smart cars. It didn’t take long for The Internet of Things—which trusty Google defines as, “The interconnection via the internet of computing devices embedded in everyday objects”—to make its way into our lives. It’s not far from doing the same in the glass industry.

IoT is increasingly used in the glass world in reference to Industry 4.0 (also known as the fourth industrial revolution or the digitalization of the industrial/manufacturing world). If you follow robotics or manufacturing in the glass industry, or kept up with this year’s glasstec coverage, then you already know this buzzword has been gaining momentum, and with good reason. Automation and digital integration have a lot of potential advantages for glass fabricators and suppliers, from better processing metrics to streamlined operations and improved worker productivity. But there is understandably still some hesitancy around implementation. 

Is setting aside the necessary time, resources and task organization to develop a digital strategy, install a new network infrastructure (if necessary) and retrain employees on certain aspects of operation valuable in an industry that’s already stretched thin? Is big data bringing anything tangible to the table that we can’t live without? Will the investment for new machinery, software or systems pencil out? 

I say yes.

There will always be competing matters pressing for our attention. But doing the same thing over and over again isn’t going to free up any more time as the skilled labor gap widens. IoT has the potential to fill in the holes around efficiency and productivity while helping solve workload demands. It can also improve safety, shave time off production schedules and help us meet the needs of today’s complex glass and framing products. There’s also a lot of knowledge to be gained from these interconnected systems.

Now, I’m not saying IoT is the end-all, be-all. I’m also not saying technology is the best fit in every situation. However, for businesses, when it comes to using technology to improve processes and knowledge, I think it is one investment we should all look at. For some, it may be automating loading and unloading processes. For others, it may be using software that shares information from machine to machine to identify inefficiencies and improve operations. Both big and small changes will have an impact.

It’s really another thinking beyond the immediate win situation. It will take time to implement IoT and will cause some short-term discomfort. And we’ll need to approach the whole process with great care to make sure we don’t lose sight of craftsmanship, customer service and valuable relationships along the way. Let’s not lose the people, relationships, solution-based products and thought leadership that made our industry great in the first place. But if these changes are done right, there is a lot of upside.

When you look ahead, now is the time to start thinking about The Internet of Things.

David Vermeulen is the national sales manager for Technical Glass Products (TGP), a supplier of fire-rated glass and framing systems, and other specialty architectural glazing. TGP works closely with architects, designers and other building professionals, providing them with the state-of-the-art products, service and support to maximize design aesthetics and safety in commercial and institutional buildings around the world. Contact him at 800/426-0279.

The opinions expressed here are those of the individual author and do not necessarily reflect those of the National Glass Association, Glass Magazine editors, or other glassblog contributors.

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