M2M stands for machine to machine, and quite simply refers to the functionality that allows two machines to relay information to one another, or for one machine to send information in one direction to another location. It’s in widespread use in the modern world, allowing machines and systems to work more effectively together, and even allow entirely new processes and systems. But how does this work in practice, and what technologies underpin the functionality?
How it’s used
To better understand how the connectivity works, it’s probably helpful for you to understand how M2M works in practice. Let’s take a look at a couple of different examples.
Our first example is the humble vending machine. In the past, vending machines would have to be checked regularly to see the stock that they carried. When something was low, the facilities manager might contact the vending machine operator to order in new stock, and then this could be added to the machine. However, many machines now come with M2M technology, which means that they can communicate stock levels straight back to the stock database and warehouse.
By being connected through a M2M SIM such as those offered by Top Connect, they can immediately request restocking. In certain scenarios, there doesn’t need to be any human interaction until the stock is picked, and even then this could potentially be done by a machine. M2M here helps ensure that the vending machine is part of the stock-keeping programme. In addition to rapid restocking without human input, lots of data can be gathered about purchase habits too. Do certain foods get bought at certain times of day? Is it possible to predict stock depletion before the machine is empty?
Our second example is in an automotive factory. There are actually many different examples of how M2M might work in a factory, but in this case we’re going to consider maintenance. Car manufacturing plants operate on very tight margins, with precise times for how quickly things should be done, and of course all of the tolerances that go into the cars themselves. This means that the machines – often robots – that have a hand in building the cars, need to be operating at peak productivity for as much of the time as possible. However, just like any other machine, they need maintenance.
By using M2M technology, these robots can relay information about their condition back to a central point. Rather than engineers having to go out and check certain elements of the machine, they can wait to be told by the machines themselves. The power of M2M also means that these machines can communicate to locations totally remote from the warehouse. If a manufacturing facility outsources certain elements of maintenance, then the equipment provider can check on the health of its machines without needing to do a pre-inspection.
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The technology behind it
So how does M2M actually work?
It’s worth noting at this point, that while modern M2M connectivity generally refers to cutting-edge wireless technologies, it doesn’t have to be that way. Two machines communicating through a wired network would also be using M2M. To illustrate this, some of the very first machines to communicate used phone lines rather than wireless technology.
Now however, most M2M networks will have similar setups. You’ll have an end device that collects information in some way, such as the examples above, and then they will use a network such as WiFi or mobile to relay the information to another machine. At this point the data may be further relayed, or interpreted by machinery, software or people.
WiFi allows machines to use the local network to connect to other machines on the same network, or the internet, whereas a mobile network can be used to connect machines over vast distances without any kind of local network.
There are plenty of other solutions and technologies that M2M can make use of too, such as radio signals. RFID and NFC for example allow close range connectivity of machines, even without one machine requiring a power source. This is useful for basic information, such as self-identification.
M2M is a continually advancing set of technologies, with many different network technologies, protocols, frameworks and capabilities. But as part of the Internet of Things (IoT), it’s a crucial part of the modern business landscape, and can be found widely in everyday life.