Many companies depend on data collection to comply with regulations in their industry. This applies doubly to industries that are heavily regulated for the purpose of public safety, including food production, medical devices, pharmaceuticals, and aerospace.

Efficiently collecting this data in a reliable format used to be a difficult and involved process, but technology has made it much easier. As the tech industry continues to fall in love with the Internet of Things (IoT), the future of efficient and accurate data collection in industry looks brighter than ever. What used to be a laborious process, rife with human error that could hobble a factory, can become as simple as a one-and-done device with data now a mouse-click away.

How does IoT accomplish this?

What Is the Internet of Things?

Like most buzzwords, IoT gets thrown around a lot. To understand its applications, it helps to remember what it is and what it is designed to do.

Start with "Internet." Thanks to packet-switching computer technology across an ad-hoc network of servers connected by a world-blanketing fiber optic network, much human knowledge and a universe of content--books, instruction manuals, news articles, how-to articles, myriad forms of entertainment--is available from a computer or smartphone browser.

Perhaps the internet's defining feature is that it is "Cloud-based." Early internet-based mind-maps tended to group elements that existed on the internet in a "cloud" image. The data physically lived on a server, but it could be recalled by any machine in the world that could find that server.

For a long time, web browsers had all the fun. But with IoT, cloud data and functions are now in a thing, rather than accessible only through a browser. Often this takes the form of a "smart" version of a typical household device.

Perhaps the signature IoT device is the Google Nest Smart Thermostat. The Nest learns your thermostat preferences and reproduces them. Moreover, you can access your thermostat controls with your smartphone. It's a thing in your life that functions "in the cloud."

Other IoT devices include door locks you can control remotely, security devices that allow you to answer your door from anywhere in the world, and blood-glucose monitors implanted in diabetics that communicate data to a web-based platform.

How IoT Devices Could Improve Industrial Data Collection Processes

How does this apply to the collection of data in a factory or other industrial facility‚Ä"data like temperature, humidity, voltage, pressure, and other conditions that must be optimal for the products of that industry to be safe and high-quality? How can IoT devices improve industrial data collection?

The ALCOA Standard

Data is meaningless unless it has integrity, meaning it was collected and recorded in a way that it can be trusted.

Most regulators evaluate data against the ALCOA Standard of data integrity. Here's how < href='https://orc.uams.edu/wp-content/uploads/sites/71/2014/10/ALCOA-Standards.pdf'>ALCOA breaks down:

  Attributable. Data that is attributable can be traced to the time and place it was recorded and to the person or device that recorded it, creating a chain of accountability.

Legible. Data that is legible doesn't just exist as a useless electrical signal or pencil-scratch that no one can read. That signal, or that pencil scratch, can be rendered in a form that any literate human can read.

Contemporaneous. If someone reads a thermometer and then records a week later what they saw on that thermometer, the data is not contemporaneous. What if the person misremembers what (s)he read? Contemporaneous data is recorded at the time it is observed, or as close to the time of observation as possible, i.e. within minutes at the most.

Original. If a handwritten data record is then copied by hand into another ledger, it is no longer original. The original record of the data is considered to have the most integrity.

Accurate. Of course, data is useless if it is not accurate. This includes both taking the correct reading, and taking the reading down to the required decimal or fraction.

Obviously, relying on humans to record data introduces the possibility of human error.

How IoT Devices Can Help Businesses Meet the ALCOA Standard

Digital data recorders have already come a long way. Whereas old data recorders used paper tape and crayons on vibrating arms, today's digital data loggers contain a sensor, a microprocessor, and a data drive to sense the conditions of the environment (temperature, pressure, humidity, etc) and record the observation on the data drive with a timestamp.

IoT data loggers take data recording efficiency to the next level. Without cloud capabilities, data would have to be retrieved from each data logger manually, using USB or other hard-plug connections, then collated into a report to be submitted to regulators for compliance. It's better than having to look at thermometers and record what you see by hand on a ledger, but it's still a chore, especially when multiple data loggers can be spread across huge facilities. It also allows for the introduction of human error at multiple points along the way.

Enter IoT data loggers. These connect with the cloud through technologies like WiFi or Bluetooth, automatically compiling reports of data records into a unified platform.

Cloud-based automation allows IoT data loggers to be:

  Attributable. Every piece of data is time-stamped and attributed to the data logger that recorded it.

Legible. The cloud-based back office renders data into numbers and letters readable by humans.

Contemporaneous. Data is recorded immediately and uploaded directly to the cloud.

Original. Even though it is transmitted from the logger to the cloud, the exact copy of the code means that the data record is still "original," the way the "copy/paste" function on a PC dutifully reproduces the original text.

Accurate. As long as the logger is properly calibrated and sufficient in resolution, the data logger will take more accurate readings than a person can be expected to.

Best of all, IoT data loggers can improve industries' ability to react to problems. IoT data loggers that discover internal errors can send a notification to a desktop or smartphone indicating that there is a problem. Without this notification, managers may not discover the faulty data logger until their next scheduled data sweep.

Furthermore, IoT data loggers can alert management of developing conditions that could threaten compliance. Suppose the humidity in a pharmaceutical factory exceeds recommended maximums. An entire drug batch faces spoilage; lost revenue and higher costs follow. A standard humidity data logger can tell you when the humidity got too high--but not in time to save the product.

In contrast, IoT data loggers can send a notification indicating that conditions are straying from optimal, possibly in time to prevent a production-halting or compliance-threatening disaster.

This article from Dickson covers several organizational benefits of remote monitoring, including asset protection, safety, resource management, and cost reduction

Automating processes that once required human input--and potentially human error--is the raison d'etre of the Internet of Things. IoT data loggers automate, centralize, and safeguard the integrity of industrial data collection when they need it the most - and help organizations remain compliant and operational.