It wasn’t long ago that the idea of interconnected appliances and machine-to-machine communication was largely science fiction. Engineers and software developers dreamed of smart cars, smart refrigerators, and smart homes, but the reality was always just out of reach.

Today, the Internet of Things (IoT) is very much a part of our daily lives and is being applied not only to personal devices like smart thermostats and heart-rate monitors, but also to industrial applications in aviation, traffic control, healthcare, agriculture, energy services, manufacturing, and more. Industrial machines are talking to each other, sharing information, identifying best practices, and applying what they learn in real-time.

Recently, IoT technology has been introduced into the mail centers of businesses large and small, and it is quickly changing the game in the mailing industry.

IoT Solutions for Mailers

The power of IoT has been tapped to help small and medium mailers digitally connect their analog mailing systems to the cloud, allowing them to access a host of valuable new services and benefits. With IoT technology, hundreds of thousands of legacy meter users in the US can now benefit from automatic postal rate updates, usage tracking and analytics, maintenance alerts, auto ink replenishment, and 24/7 online account management.

Here are the top three areas where we believe IoT technologies will have the most dramatic impact on our industry:

1. Improved machine uptime, service, and performance

Mail center downtime — whether planned or unexpected — inhibits productivity. When your machines can self-report their system health in real time, you’re able to enhance the effectiveness of planned maintenance and turn reactive equipment repair or replacements into a proactive process.

For small and medium volume mailers grappling with growing complexity in their mailing operations, IoT solutions can help them simplify by keeping their mailing systems up-to-date, never running out of ink, and delivering reliable value every day. With automated error management, small and medium mailers will receive alerts on common machine errors with links to self-help instructions or videos on how to remedy the problem. This ensures more rapid resolution before having to call the vendor for resolution. In addition, the intelligent systems can proactively communicate with service centers to provide insight on the machine, allowing customer service to quickly fix the issue remotely or to dispatch a technician. If a service call is required, the real time analytics provided via the IoT enables the technician to diagnose the root cause of the issue prior to arriving onsite, which helps ensure the technician has the right parts to fix the issue and limit downtime to a minimum.

In large-scale mail factories that produce millions of pieces per year, IoT-enabled sensors embedded in mail center systems can provide predicative indicators around machine usage, performance trends, and wear and tear. When you have extracted enough of this data on all of your machines, you’ll be able to establish a staged optimal maintenance schedule so that each machine will be maintained to reduce the amount of downtime or disruption to the overall operation.

Additionally, the sensors can identify a hardware problem before it occurs, eliminating the chance that a machine breaks down in the middle of a critical production run. With advanced intelligence, you can proactively reallocate that machine’s output and take steps to repair or replace it. All the while, the rest of your mail center is able to keep producing uninterrupted.

2. Maximized productivity and efficiency

Maintenance is only one part of the puzzle. The data from industrial internet solutions can help you optimize performance for each individual machine operator, an entire mail center site, or even across multiple enterprise locations. Scalable monitoring is especially valuable to the growing enterprise or service provider, who might add new sites to expand operations.

Machine-to-machine communication can feed a stream of equipment effectiveness data. Through IoT technologies, not only can you collect insights on machine availability and efficiency, you gain insight into operator effectiveness, which can then drive performance-improving decisions. For example, with the changing market landscape, clients run smaller and more diverse jobs instead of the same monthly statement application. These barcoded and personalized mailings have tight SLAs and require machine change overs and highly effective operators. Data streaming in real time along with data sciences allows the machine to become more intelligent over time and automate schedules to meet all the SLAs and deliver at the highest speed possible. It finds the right sequences of jobs to the right available machines and operators. Also it pinpoints operator efficiency improvements and allows you to optimize entire work cells to ensure that every piece of your operation meets industry benchmarks for performance.

These decisions can be applied at any scale. You can choose to assign high-volume projects to only your most efficient and productive mail systems or you can evaluate your entire equipment estate against fresh benchmarks for what’s considered acceptable, marginal, or unacceptable performance. Plus, because each decision is supported by real-time data, you’re developing a smarter, more practical understanding of your operational capabilities.

3. Lower operational costs and optimized workflow

When it comes to operational spending, all of these workflow benefits add up to real-world savings. When your systems are optimized to run as efficiently as possible and worldwide experts have insight into specific verifiable usage patterns, you can better manage time, costs, and resources. With regularly maintained and proactively monitored equipment, you’ll reduce costly repairs. And when your entire mail center operation is operating at peak capacity, you can make the most of what you spend on labor and service.

For small and medium mailers, real time and summarized insights and analytics reports allow them to better understand usage and trends. In addition, we are able to provide a myriad of recommendations to further reduce operational costs by tying IoT analytics to operational analytics.

This is what’s possible when you combine incredible new data collection tools with deep analytics and embedded machine-learning capabilities. The best part is, this isn’t futuristic technology. These capabilities are available today. The industrial IoT applies the power of emerging digital technologies to the physical world, helping businesses everywhere draw even more value from machines.

These are just a few of the many areas of our industry that are being reshaped by IoT technology. Using IoT to connect mail machines represents the latest step in the steady march of innovation in the mailing and shipping industry. Now that our mail machines are talking, the real question is, what will they tell us next?

Marie-Pierre Belanger is VP Digital Solutions and Delivery, Pitney Bowes Document Messaging Technologies.