The internet seems to be everywhere keeping track of everything, but there still are places where it can expand.

Team Northeast Ohio believes the the industrial "internet of things" is one area that hasn't reached its potential. So the organization, working with several area companies, universities and other business groups, has compiled a road map to drive regional development of the smart manufacturing industrial internet of things.

The goal is to help area companies improve production and manufacturing by bringing the internet to the factory floor.

Manufacturing remains a key component of Northeast Ohio's economy, said Jacob Duritsky, Team NEO's vice president for strategy and research. Regionally, manufacturers have been growing, but they need to remain competitive globally. Using the industrial internet of things can help improve productivity and increase profitability.

Northeast Ohio's manufacturing is projected by Moody's to grow by about $4 billion to a gross regional product of $45 billion over the next six years. But it's projected the economic impact could be be higher — hitting between $52 billion and $62 billion — if companies incorporated the industrial internet of things into production, Duritsky said.

What is it?

The industrial internet of things — often referred to as IIoT — describes the use of various industrial equipment connected with communication technology to create systems that can monitor, collect, exchange, analyze and deliver information more efficiently. Companies are using new technology to improve operations, collect data develop processes to avoid and solve problems.

Team NEO and its partners spent six months identifying and assessing opportunities to use the industrial internet of things in Northeast Ohio. A working group developed a road map for a regional commercialization strategy. The plan hopes to leverage the region's manufacturing heritage, assets and workforce.

Team NEO formally unveiled the idea early in November to about 250 people from manufacturing and technology companies. A similar program was presented at the Pro Football Hall of Fame, with about 80 people attending, during late October.

The plan includes a readiness assessment to help companies determine where they stand in the industrial internet of things. A website has been set up for the confidential assessment and so far about 30 companies have used it, said David Moon, a senior solutions consultant for Hitachi Vantara. Moon was a member of the working group that developed the road map.

Moon said the participating companies have been all across the board as to how well they using the industrial internet of things in their operation, with a small percentage using the industrial internet of things on the plant floor. Companies taking the assessment can find out where they are and develop plans, he said. "The main goal is to open their eyes to what is possible."

David Knowles, who works for Rockwell Automation in Twinsburg and worked on the road map, said interest in the assessment has been high, based on responses at the two meetings.

Companies need to take action and they aren't sure where they stand, he said. Some make production decisions based on a limited amount of data. Knowles said the correct equipment can collect more data and help a company assess operations. In some instances, adding a few sensors, at a low cost, might help a company make better decisions and improve operations.

For example, there are sensors that can let a manufacturer know when production machinery is wearing out and in need of maintenance. If sensors are used and connected, Moon said, changes might be noted before a machine breaks down, which helps the manufacturer avoid quality problems or a shutdown because a machine broke.

Just a beginning

Team NEO and its partners estimate it will take five to seven years of strategic thinking to establish smart manufacturing program.

Meetings earlier this year were the start. During 2019 the agency expects to share the idea with hundreds of companies. The next step will be developing case studies and helping more companies become involved.

The road map commercialization plan has a smart manufacturing cluster that hopes to drive implementation of the industrial internet of things, along with product innovation and workforce development. Training will be important as new technology is introduced and the workforce changes with older employees retiring.

Duritsky said he's not familiar with any other region in the country doing an assessment similar to what Team NEO and its partners have started.

Knowles said companies are looking for direction. The assessment is a tool that can help companies start. "It helps us be competitive and thrive, and not just survive."