Reducing the Regulatory Burden with IIoT

August 10, 2017

The regulatory burden is a fact for every industry, from hospitality to manufacturing. It’s time-consuming and expensive to fill out reports, and the cost of compliance seems to increase every year. However, breaching regulations could be the end of your business.

So, can technology make things easier for business owners? The answer is a resounding yes, especially with technology such as Internet of Things (IoT) and the manufacturing-focused Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). The following three examples show how IoT and IIoT can help companies meet regulatory requirements:

Pipeline integrity

The U.S. has an estimated 200,000 miles of pipelines carrying hazardous gases and liquids. A leak in that network, or a system failure after a natural disaster, could have catastrophic consequences for the surrounding area, so pipelines are subject to a very tight regulatory regime. A dedicated agency, the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA), generates reports based on large amounts of data gathered from private operators.

IoT makes it possible to gather this data and forward it electronically to regulatory bodies such as PHMSA. With small, low-energy sensors, it is feasible to monitor pressure throughout the pipeline, making it easy to identify potential leaks. More complex systems, such as small robots that can be sent through the pipeline to detect even the tiniest breaches in pipe integrity, are currently in development.

Health and safety

Wearable technology will play a big role in reducing work place accidents and helping employers meet their obligations under OSHA. Common consumer technology such as FitBit-style fitness trackers already offer vital data. For example, they can show highly elevated heart rates, which can indicate that a worker is exposed to dangerous overheating.

The manufacturing firm Northstar Bluescope Steel recently developed a process that uses wearables in conjunction with IBM’s Watson platform. They found that workers were empowered to make better health and safety decisions when provided with the data. Within a few years, such systems are likely to become standard in hazardous environments. Workers will also be provided with Bluetooth sensors that can detect radiation, dangerous gases or other industrial hazards.

Cold chain integrity

Managing cold chains is one of the biggest logistical problems in both food and pharmaceuticals. If an item in transport is allowed to rise above the maximum temperature, even briefly, it could pose a major health hazard to the person at the receiving end. Cold chain integrity is monitored by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), with cold chain integrity regulations relating to food codified in the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA).

Breakthroughs in IoT offer new ways of ensuring cold chain integrity at all times. Cheap, disposable sensors can be attached to each package. These sensors record the temperature throughout the journey and create a paper-trail to satisfy regulatory requirements. What’s more, such sensors can easily broadcast information to people in the supply chain, such as truck drivers, alerting them to temperature changes. They can then act to ensure the integrity of the cargo, reducing overall costs.

These are just some examples, but they are linked by a common theme: data. Whether dealing with frozen food or toxic chemicals, regulation means gathering data, compiling reports, and submitting the reports to the relevant regulatory authority. It’s costly and expensive, and one of the reasons regulations are perceived as anti-business.

IoT and IIoT make this process easier, which reduces the regulatory burden on businesses. But it’s not just for the benefit of the government. Having this kind of data available to enterprise means higher productivity, less waste, fewer accidents and, ultimately, higher profits.