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Internet of Things November 2021 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: David Strachan-Olson

Intelligent Manufacturing

By Rob Edmonds
Edmonds is a principal consultant with Strategic Business Insights.


Nissan has unveiled its Nissan Intelligent Manufacturing initiative, which uses the IoT, robotics, and AI. This initiative highlights the potential of the IoT to transform manufacturing, creating far greater levels of optimization, flexibility, and automation than are possible today. Most firms are still rolling out foundational technologies for intelligent manufacturing, but further progress is likely.


As part of its Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative, Nissan recently unveiled a new intelligent production line at its plant in Tochigi, Japan. The manufacturer says that its Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative will use Internet of Things (IoT) technologies alongside artificial intelligence and robotics. IoT and AI elements focus on quality assurance, remote equipment diagnosis, and maintenance. For example, in Tochigi, human operators stationed by the robotic production line will use wrist-mounted smartphones to monitor vehicle data from IoT sensors.

The Tochigi factory is scheduled to start production of the new Ariya crossover electric car this financial year. Nissan plans eventually to roll out the Nissan Intelligent Factory initiative to other plants in Japan and the United States.


Nissan's increasing use of IoT technologies in factory automation is part of the broader Industrial Internet of Things trend within manufacturing. In the automotive sector alone, most manufacturers are taking (or at least considering) approaches similar to Nissan's as they reorganize their production around electric vehicles. For example, Daimler subsidiary Mercedes-Benz already has its Factory 56 digital initiative up and running at its Sindelfingen, Germany, plant. IoT technologies are now also common in electronics manufacturing (firms with notable digital-manufacturing initiatives include Philips, Fujitsu, and Nokia), though use of IoT technology is increasing in all manufacturing sectors.

In many ways, IoT connectivity is the starting point of digital-factory initiatives. Without sensors to monitor and integrate production machines, concepts about digital twins (of assets, products, or factories), real-time production optimization, and lights-out manufacturing are impossible to realize. Today, manufacturers are still at the start of this digitalization journey. Most current factory IoT applications focus on predictive maintenance for equipment, quality control, finished-product inspection, and basic process optimization. Such applications often focus on individual machines or processes; varying standards still complicate deep data integration across production lines.

The next phase of digital manufacturing will likely include greater use of AI, both to aid data integration and to better identify opportunities for optimization. Digital twins of entire factories will likely become more common, and predictive maintenance will improve. Overall, the Industry 4.0 revolution has been slower to arrive than some pundits predicted, but it is still coming. The foundations—notably IoT sensors—are increasingly in place, enabling manufacturers to build out the software integrations and applications that will add value.

Relevant Areas to Monitor

  • Industry 4.0

    Industry 4.0 leverages machines, parts, and services that exchange data and self-configure to support dynamic, agile, and efficient manufacturing processes. Stakeholders expect Industry 4.0 to revolutionize manufacturing and industrial practices to create self-sufficient systems, but challenges could limit progress.

  • Digital Transformation & Disruption

    Digital transformation is the use of technology to change fundamentally how a company operates; it is not simply the use of technology to improve a company's core business. Many legacy companies may struggle to embrace digital transformation, which creates opportunities for new players to disrupt incumbents.

Impact Scale

On a scale of low, medium, or high, the anticipated level of impact for this topic is: High.

Impact Timing

On a scale of now, 5, 10, or 15 years, the anticipated impact timing for this topic is: 5 years.

Opportunities in the Following Industry Areas

  • Automotive/Vehicle
  • AI/Automation/Software
  • Internet of Things
  • Manufacturing/Materials
  • Sensors/Electronics

Relevant to the Following Explorer Technology Areas