When machines communicate with machines, how many new kinds of value can they generate?

I posted recently on the role that machine-to-machine (M2M) technology plays in the heavy equipment and dispersed assets used in construction. As Maribel Lopez mentioned, the new industrial revolution is around smart products, and I want to highlight the innovations that M2M is fostering in heavy equipment.

Of course, wired M2M has been around a while, especially in remote monitoring/control, remote metering and asset tracking. Now, wireless M2M is more convenient than wired, and vastly more convenient than having humans manually examine machines. Using the cellular network instead of people or cables to communicate with distant machines is a huge enabler, and it has set off waves of innovation and cool applications.
M2M is about connecting machines to the Internet and deriving value from them. It’s amazing how much more value you can get when they’re connecting wirelessly.

Value from inside the machine

The use case for M2M in heavy equipment and dispersed assets is simple: You are here; your machines are way over there; you want to gather information from them and maybe send them a few commands. It applies to just about any machine you can’t reach or connect to.
Some of the most prominent industries using heavy equipment M2M are construction, farming, forestry, mining, petroleum exploration and equipment rental/leasing. They involve assets like cranes, heavy-duty vehicles, tractors, combines, logging machinery and pipeline repair equipment. Value from M2M is derived from its ability to answer complex business questions within these industries — and about these assets:

  • Tracking – Where exactly are your assets? If you rent out or lease your heavy equipment, is it sitting idle in a yard, or is it out at job sites making money for you?
  • Monitoring – How are your assets being used right now? Consider a machine used in mining: What kind of load are your workers placing on it? Is it running too fast or too hot? Do you need to train your employees on how to use it properly?
  • Diagnostics – Logging equipment may be in a forest several time zones away. But M2M can collect real-time data on the condition of engines, parts, and circuitry. Owners use the information to schedule maintenance, and manufacturers use the information to improve product quality.
  • Security – Nothing is more important with expensive capital assets than keeping them secure. M2M enables security measures like geofencing to alert you when your construction equipment moves into or out of a specific geographic area, and video surveillance, to help you keep your eye on pipelines and refinery assets. And what if M2M could help you recover a stolen excavator by flipping a kill switch and using GPS? That’s a cool application.

M2M is the long-awaited key to deriving business value from almost everywhere inside the machine.
But there’s more.

Value from around the machine

Let’s take M2M one step further: You have a connected machine out in the field. What if you put sensors on it to send you information about conditions around the machine? Think of this use as extending the senses from your control center out to the field. In addition to basing business decisions on the status of the machine, you can base them on the machine’s environment. Consider a few examples:

  • Engineering – If your concrete pumps and mixers show cold, humid, or windy conditions, you can dispatch additional equipment and supplies to maintain your construction schedule. Use sensors on your paving machines to monitor the temperature of asphalt as you spread it.
  • Agriculture and farming – While your farm machines are plowing or harvesting, they can also sample the soil for pH balance and nutrients. If the soil is too dry, adjust the irrigation schedule remotely.
  • Road maintenance – Analyze data on snowfall, moisture content and humidity to forecast when snowplows will run into difficulty and require different configuration or attachments.
  • Grade control – Tighten job estimates by using sensors on dozers and motor graders to measure surface and grade more accurately.
  • Subsurface – Avoid unmarked underground utilities by combining high-frequency sweeps or ground-penetrating radar with map data and the exact location of excavating equipment.

Owners of heavy equipment and dispersed assets stand to gain as much value from data on the machine’s surroundings as from information about the machine itself.

If your business operates in an industry obtaining value from M2M, how are you measuring value from M2M communications? What kinds of innovative applications have you seen? What would you like to see?