Smart cities want smart factories (and what you can do to attract them)

Fri, 2015-04-10 07:05 -- Kevin Ebi

The Internet of Things (IoT) is already transforming homes and cities by giving people access to real-time data that they can immediately act upon. But factories are now starting to catch on, too.

That transformation could pay off for cities, but only if they step up to help with that transformation. Smart factories need smarter cities to help drive them.

The factory of the future
Council Lead Partner Cisco, which has invested $1 billion in developing IoT products and services, demonstrated technologies that could transform factories at a recent event in Seoul, South Korea. It painted a picture of the factories of the future at its technology fair, Cisco Connect Korea 2015, at COEX. And some factories are already putting the technology to work.

The key transformation involves putting factories on a common technology platform. Most of today’s factories run on two: one for operations and one for management. By putting both on the same backbone, the same real-time data can help ensure smooth day-to-day operations, while giving strategic managers insights to improve them further. This unification means there’s only one backbone to support and there shouldn’t be any discrepancies in the data or how it’s calculated.

It also provides the usual IoT benefits. The data streams from equipment and sensors help operations managers to uncover problems before they disrupt operations. The depth of data can also be used to improve security and help managers to make decisions that make the factories more agile.

The workforce of the future
There’s undoubtedly a fear that any effort to make factories more efficient will put people out of work. Cities that fail to look beyond that, however, will miss out on the bigger opportunities that smart factories can provide.

While these efforts tend to result in some factory automation -- equipment that’s connected to the Internet can be monitored and controlled from anywhere -- there are sizeable opportunities for higher-skilled workers. The factory equipment itself may need less attention, but the data backbone will need significantly more.

Cisco predicts that the growth of the IoT will result in a need for 220,000 new engineers every year for the next 10 years. Cloud architects, cybersecurity analysts, data scientists, mobile application developers and network programmers are all in very high demand. Cities that can supply that workforce will be in high demand from businesses.

Laws need to keep up with businesses
Part of Cisco’s showcase also illustrated how the laws in some countries simply aren’t keeping up with the pace of business. While Cisco didn’t make a point of it, its use of drones to improve data collection in South Korean factories is practically science fiction in some other countries.

Inside, drones could fly to different parts of the factory, monitoring air quality and other environmental factors over a much wider area than sensors that are fixed in place. Outside, they could improve safety, doing everything from ensuring buildings are secure to verifying that only authorized vehicles are taking up disabled parking spaces.

While the drones are working in South Korea, that usage would be illegal in the U.S. where commercial use of them remains banned. Despite pleas from business, regulators have moved slowly and it could be another two years before the first commercial drones are authorized.

That sluggish pace prompted the online retailer Amazon to move some of its operations to Canada. The retailer eventually wants to use drones to make some package deliveries, but it’s barred from even doing testing in the U.S.

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Kevin Ebi is a staff writer and social media coordinator for the Council. Follow @smartccouncil on Twitter.

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