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    5 IoT benefits for industrial workplaces

    Safer, healthier, and more productive​​​​​​ industrial workplaces

    Connected lighting solutions are helping make industrial spaces into safer, healthier, and more productive places to work.

    As Deloitte University Press explains in its report The Smart Factory, an industrial setting with cutting-edge connected systems and Internet of Things (IoT) capabilities can increase production capacity by 25 percent and reduce defect rates by 50 percent. And that's not to mention what those systems and capabilities can do for the well-being of workers.

    It's no surprise, then, that industry innovators should focus so intensely on developing connected lighting solutions for manufacturers and other industrial users — smart lighting is smart business for all involved. Research shows that within the next three years, manufacturing customers will invest $438 million in IoT solutions, including connected lighting.

    Here's a look at some of the chief benefits an IoT-enabled connected lighting system can bring.

    Safety, wellness, and improved focus across the board

    Insufficient or uneven lighting leads to stumbles and dangerous contact with equipment — and according to Liberty Mutual, slips, trips, and falls are the reasons for 33.1 percent of workplace-related US disabilities.

    Those disabilities together account for $19.4 billion in costs. So getting light into all the places workers need it is a core priority for connected lighting solutions. These solutions might use sensors to create heat maps of worker activity and then, on their basis, tune up light intensity in specific areas at specific times, as needed. (Goodbye to old-school drop-lights.)

    Sensors can also keep a constant eye on workers' safety conditions. As Deloitte notes in its Smart Factory report, a factory's connected sensors might detect when workers stray too close to potentially hazardous equipment. On the basis of the data and functionality of a connected lighting system, the smart factory's control software can use lighting changes to alert the worker, send out audible or vibration alerts, and either disable or autonomously move the equipment if possible.

    Finally, better light makes for clearer minds and a more appealing workplace. Researchers have for years known about the positive link between workplace mood, on the one hand, and light color and intensity, on the other. They've also found clear correlations between personalized lighting controls and higher levels of focus, cognitive ability, and productivity.

    A widely-cited 2005 study from Philips, in fact, showed that workers who exercise control over the lighting in their work environments improve their productivity by 4.5 percent.

    Lighting-based data capabilities that will drive further safety enhancements — and more

    Yet the answer isn't simply to flood workplaces with more light — even higher-quality light — indiscriminately.

    Rather, it's to tune that light just right. That's where historical performance data can come in, combining with workers' preferences to help guide IoT-driven lighting deployments on an informed basis. What does, say, five years' worth of information about the connection between a lighting regime, on the one hand, and productivity and safety numbers, on the other, tell us about how we should be illuminating our shop floor?

    In a 2016 report, the US Department of Energy acknowledged the opportunity for connected lighting beacons and traffic monitoring to improve safety and efficiency in a variety of settings, from logistics centers to retail and transportation hubs and beyond. The key, the report made clear, is in lighting's “ubiquity." Lighting apparatus is everywhere, all the time, and thus a great vehicle for a data-collection system that doesn't miss a thing.

    A data transmission technique called Li-Fi is an integral component in that system. It allows connected lighting to carry vital data signals in crowded industrial environments where loads of devices are competing for space on the Wi-Fi spectrum, overcrowding frequencies and generating interference. And so innovators are turning an eye to Li-Fi, and how to improve it.

    BMW and its technology partner, the Fraunhofer Heinrich Hertz Institute, recently concluded a three-year experiment with infrared LED for data transmission. The project represents a twist on the usual Li-Fi arrangements, which rely on imperceptible variations in visible light. Completely invisible to the human eye, BMW and Fraunhofer's infrared Li-Fi carried manufacturing inspection images between a manufacturing robot, its safety barrier, and its controllers — all while avoiding garbled reception.

    The project is an indication of the care that enterprises are putting into getting the data-intensive industrial IoT right.

    Greater sustainability

    Connected lighting solutions can reduce waste throughout the production cycle by improving accountability and resource consumption.

    Smart luminaires can report granular energy consumption rates, making it easier to assign specific utility and equipment costs to manufacturing tasks, shifts, and personnel. And a broader smart factory platform can coordinate consumption info with info from other IoT-enhanced environmental assets to track how a plant is using air, water, HVAC, and other services on a real-time basis.

    Coordinating all of this data allows plant operators to cut waste on heating or cooling unused areas, while maximizing comfort and safety in those areas that need it most.

    By integrating IoT data provided by manufacturing equipment and by finished products themselves, operators can even draw connections between working conditions and the quality of those finished products. This gives managers a fuller picture of the impact that lighting, heating, and other costs have on a company's bottom line and brand reputation.

    Optimized use of manufacturing space

    Sensors in connected lighting can help track how each square foot of an industrial space is used around the clock.

    This insight helps in, for instance, better deploying an enterprise's land resources. Faced with the need for more manufacturing space, managers can assign underutilized spaces for redevelopment instead of breaking new ground. A move like that could be as good for a company's finances as it is for the local environment.

    An enhanced culture of predictive maintenance

    Industrial asset maintenance has too often been a business of attending to squeaky wheels only after they've started to squeak. The sensors and self-diagnostic capabilities that connected lighting solutions command can help transform a reactive maintenance culture into a predictive one — one that's much more successful at ensuring consistent performance.

    Connected luminaires themselves can report diagnostic data, indicating when they're close to failure or reminding managers when scheduled replacement terms are approaching. Those luminaires can also identify environmental threats, such as erosion in shop floors, moisture seeping out of leaky pipes, or atmospheric pollution that malfunctioning exhaust fans leave behind.

    Acting on these warnings improves the performance and overall uptime of a production floor, and reduces the costs of a failure that can injure workers, destroy equipment, or shut down production during a lengthy cleanup.

    As connected lighting transforms today's industrial workplace, productivity rises — and the employees directly driving that better productivity benefit from safer, healthier, and more pleasant places to work. The right industrial connected-lighting platform is therefore crucial to creating a more powerful and humane industrial model for the rest of this century and beyond.

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