The rise of intelligent industry and the Industrial Internet of Things

(c) Dernarczyk

According to IDC, the global Internet of Things (IoT) market is set to grow to $1.7 trillion by 2020. Fuelling that is an expected increase in the number of active IoT endpoints, from 10.3 billion in 2014 to more than 29.5 billion in 2020. The proliferation of smart, connected machines and devices is having a profound impact on how industry around the world operates. We are ushering in a new era - the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) – where data from interconnected devices is used to improve industrial performance.

An evolution, not a revolution

The move towards IIoT is being driven by combination of factors: increasing infrastructure investments in new economies; modernisation of ageing plant and systems; new and tighter regulations; increasing market speed and volatility; and disruptive technology trends. To compete and win in a world where we produce and consume differently, and with intelligence everywhere, global industry needs practical and smart solutions that address specific problems.

The IIoT brings about a world where smart connected products and systems operate as part of larger, more responsive and agile systems. Improvements in efficiency and profitability, increased cybersecurity and innovation, and better management of safety, performance and environmental impact are just some of the benefits an IIoT-enabled industrial environment can deliver. However, the key to making the most of these business opportunities is to approach it as an evolution, rather than a revolution. That means drawing on proven open architectures and dependable Ethernet-based technologies.   

It’s happening now

IIoT is not some hyped up notion that is still years away from physical reality. It’s already in everyday use. There are examples and business practices that we often don’t even recognise as being enabled by IIoT. The likes of wireless technologies, low cost sensors and the use of advanced analytics can all improve industrial performance now. This can be achieved by increasing connectivity in order to produce and gather the kind of information that supports decision systems for complex manufacturing operations.

Let’s take the example of a mine. A mining operation can comprise of, for example, 10 different mines across an area extracting iron ore. It’s a complex network of a rail system going from the open mine shafts to the wider rail network, likely ended up at a port where ore is loaded on to ships for export. This is managed as one supply chain. What happens if a train breaks down? What does the operator do? Which orders do they cancel? Can they reroute iron ore from another mine to compensate for the supply loss? What is the impact on throughput? What is the impact on profitability? With a smarter, connected environment in place, advanced analytics can be used to create a detailed model, with an operator inputting the parameters within minutes rather than days in order to reveal what they should do and why.

This example highlights the fundamental change that IIoT brings to business practices - a move into real time. It enables forward looking decision making processes based on automated logic, rather than relying on the historical and labour-intensive approach of ‘data mining’.

Empowering an IIoT workforce

In many industries today there are less and less skilled operators inside the plant. This can be attributed to the “great crew change”, as a highly skilled but ageing workforce moves to retirement. What remains is a huge chasm of experience between the old guard and the new talent. The key to bridging the gap and augmenting the industry workforce to make them more efficient lies with the IIoT. By putting information at their fingertips, they will be able to capture knowledge for the longer term.

Younger employees are often digital natives and comfortable in this environment. So it can be as simple as enabling their mobile phones to scan a QR code to get the information needed to solve the fault flashing on the process drive. It could also mean greater utilisation of things like wearables, remote operations and servicing in industry. Essentially this comes down to making the plant user-centric, not machine-centric.

While some branches of IIoT, like self organising machines and assets, along with mass customisation, are still a mid-to-long-term goal, there are business opportunities today that can be seized. This is an exciting time to be in the industry. With technology there for the taking, it will pay to be amongst the early-adopters putting IIoT to good use. in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their IoT use-cases? Attend the IoT Tech Expo World Series events with upcoming shows in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam to learn more.

The show is co-located with the AI & Big Data Expo, Cyber Security & Cloud Expo and Blockchain Expo so you can explore the entire ecosystem in one place.

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