What is Industrial IoT?
As digitalisation is fast becoming a business priority for many organisations around the world, the term Industrial Internet of Things is beginning to be more pervasive in the context of industry. You may have heard IoT Industry being thrown around. However, you may not have been unable to fully grasp the importance it carries for so many organisations. Until now, that is.
Industrial IoT (IIoT) is essentially the use of internet of things technologies to enhance manufacturing and industrial processes. IoT Industry incorporates machine learning and big data technologies to harness the sensor data, machine-to-machine communication and automation technologies that have existed in industrial settings for years. It essentially takes the technologies we’ve been using for so many years and makes them smarter.
IIoT is all about automation, interconnectivity and interoperability. It brings together machines, advanced analytics and people at work. Effectively implemented, IIoT creates a network of a multitude of devices connected by communications technologies (sensors). This result in systems that can monitor, collect, exchange, analyse, and deliver valuable insights like never before. This interconnectivity and interoperability results in insights which, in turn, drive smarter and faster business decisions for industrial organisations.
IoT based industrial automation projects combine machine-to-machine communication, industrial big data analytics, technology, cybersecurity, Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) and Programmable Logic Controllers (PLC) to drive unprecedented levels of efficiency, productivity and performance. This combination offers industrial organisations a myriad of transformative operational and financial benefits.
How will Industrial IoT help my company?
Industrial IoT applications carry endless benefits for companies looking to join the digital age. In its early stages, the IIoT market is growing rapidly. In fact, it is expected that by 2025, Industrial IoT will reach approximately Ten Lakhs Crore. The scope of cloud applications and scalability are two of the factors that will drive the additional growth across all industries.
The markets that benefit most from Industrial IoT technologies include manufacturing, healthcare, energy and power production, logistics and transportation, oil and gas, and agriculture. These industries mainly benefit from access to an efficient, affordable and easy way to maintain processes.
Other key benefits of Industrial IoT include better-connected facility and inventory management. As well as production flow monitoring, enhanced industrial safety and optimization of logistics and the supply chain.
Digitalized and connected factory
Industrial IoT applications enable machinery to transmit operational information to managers and decisions makers. This action then enables the operations managers and factory heads to remotely manage the factory units. They can also take advantage of process automation and optimization. Essentially, with IIoT, every aspect of the factory is connected to each other. They are also connected to one single control center. With this, a better line of communication is established between workers, machinery, technology and decision makers.
One aspect included in the Industrial Internet of Things is the use of sensors in manufacturing equipment. These sensors monitor the productivity and functionality of the equipment. They also enable condition-based maintenance alerts to be sent through to the control center. IIoT sensors monitor machines in real-time and send alerts when the equipment deviates from its prescribed parameters.
By ensuring that production equipment is operating exactly how it should be at all times, the company is able to conserve energy, reduce costs, reduce/eliminate downtime and increase operational efficiency.
Industrial IoT solutions can also be quite beneficial when it comes to reducing the risk of inventory management errors. IoT technology monitors events across the supply chain in real-time which provides companies with a comprehensive view of their inventory. IoT monitoring allows for company heads to ensure that the estimates of available material and supplies are accurate. This will also help to prevent any lags in production.
Production flow monitoring
By offering better management of inventory and the facility as a whole, IIoT also enables the monitoring of production lines. This starts from the refining process down to the packaging of final products. By monitoring the products in near real-time, Industrial IoT provides scope to company heads. This scope essentially recommends adjustments in operations for better management of operational costs. The technology also alerts managers if production lags at any time which helps to eliminate any wastage and unnecessary work.
The Internet of Things combines effectively with the analysis of big data. This works to improve the overall safety of the company’s workers. IoT technology monitors the Key Performance Indicators (KPI) of health and safety. For example, the number of injuries and illness rates, near-misses, short- and long-term absences, vehicle incidents and property damage or loss during daily operations. Any lags in the KPIs of health and safety are reported in real-time allowing them to be addressed immediately.
Optimization of logistics and the supply chain
By tracking materials, equipment and products as they move through the supply chain, Industrial IoT technology can provide access to real-time supply chain information. Effective reporting of supply chain processes enables companies to collect and feed delivery information into Enterprise Resource Planning as well as Product Lifecycle Management and various other systems.
Connecting plants to suppliers means that all involved parties can trace any interdependencies, material flow and manufacturing cycle time. This data helps companies predict issues. Reduce inventory and potentially reduce capital requirements.
Industrial IoT (IIoT) Use Cases
- MACHINE MONITORING
Sensors and other intelligence can be added to new or existing plants in order to monitor exterior parameters—like AC current consumption and vibration levels—through a retrofit process to look for pumps that need maintenance or are approaching failure. For example, if you need to know when the air pressure is low in your conveyer belt system, battery-powered sensors can collect that data and wirelessly transmit it back to a central source to tell you if any kind of malfunction has occurred or will occur soon. Until recently, getting third party data out of a plant was very difficult.
Also, for many of the tens of thousands of factories and plants in the world, machinery is provided by a third-party equipment provider. If a product is warrantied or serviced by that manufacturer, they need a simple and effective way to get data from the equipment without a costly or complex IT integration on the customer’s part. IIoT technologies save manufacturers the time and travel costs associated with checking equipment on-site—instead, they can monitor performance from anywhere online.
- MONITORING FOR TOXIC GASES AND INDOOR AIR QUALITY
Whether a facility is monitoring its air quality for compliance or health reasons, enhancing those efforts with the IIoT helps ensure that goods and people are safe—without an expensive integration cost.
For example, air quality is of particular concern in school buildings, where problems with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems can cause a variety of health problems that negatively impact student performance. The industrial IoT has been used to monitor the air quality of classroom environments in a number of schools. Real-time data on air quality status is reported regularly to staff members, and alerts are sent if readings exceed a defined threshold. Overall, the solution has greatly improved the school’s air quality and increased the productivity levels of students.
- MONITORING ENVIRONMENTAL CONDITIONS IN AN INDUSTRIAL SPACE
Companies producing sensitive merchandise—like pharmaceutical plants or agricultural operations—need to monitor the environmental conditions of an area for compliance and quality reasons. But this type of monitoring can also help make a space more energy efficient, which saves money.
- INDOOR ASSET LOCATION
Finding out where inventory and supplies are located in a defined area has myriad benefits to many industries. For example, in an airport, it can be prohibitively expensive to pay a cellular carrier to monitor buses, vehicles, luggage carts, and fuel—but through defined area IoT asset tracking, you can improve your vehicle services and cut down on employee costs, all without a big M2M cellular bill.
- CONNECTING INTO EXISTING MODBUS & PROFIBUS NETWORKS
Industrial IoT monitoring allows for data acquisition in older plants without disturbing existing industrial control networks. Factories that have been operating for more than 30 years often use legacy industrial wireline protocols to gather data and monitor a number of machines. While the systems aren’t modern, they are functional—and breaking the connections to replace them with a new IoT monitoring system can be difficult and expensive. Instead, factories can simply “listen in” on the legacy wireline connections and report out through another channel.
- INVENTORY MONITORING & MANAGEMENT
Knowing where people and assets are located throughout a defined space can be critical in certain industries. Patient tracking, capital equipment tracking, behavioral monitoring, and health outcomes are all important IoT use cases in a health care setting.
3 Components of An Industrial IoT System
- FRONT-END EDGE DEVICES
Sensor data is most of the IIoT, therefore the hardware used to gather and collect it is a critical component of the system. Front-end devices like sensors and control devices are responsible for collecting the continuous streams of data and acting on them; they must be reliable, consistent, and accurate if you hope to reap the benefits of your IIoT investment.
If those data collection processes are not already in place, you have to start from the beginning. Choosing a sensor is not a trivial matter; there are both mechanical and electrical considerations. For example, if you have an oil pipeline and you want to measure the temperature of a coolant flowing from one area to another, you need to figure out mechanically how the sensor will work. Will you strap a sensor to a pipe, or cut into the pipe and insert a sensor directly? What type of sensor will it be? How will it be housed, wired, and powered? Designing and implementing sensor technology can quickly become a big issue—and that’s not to mention the complexities of actually installing and maintaining them.
There are a lot of packaged sensor solutions available; the more “ready-to-use” they are the more expensive they are. Depending on how much you want to scale up the solution, you could just buy something off the shelf
- CONNECTIVITY TECHNOLOGY
Once you’ve collected the data, you need a way to transmit it to the cloud and your IoT system also needs a way to receive commands from the cloud. That’s where connectivity comes in.
Many industrial IoT solutions rely on wireless technology. There are a number of wireless options available, including:
- Wi-Fi: Wi-Fi is a local area network (LAN) that provides internet access within a limited range, so it can be used for IIoT applications that run in a local environment. It is a star network (where there’s one central hub and all nodes or devices connect to it), which means it’s easy to add or remove devices without affecting the rest of the network. The downsides: It only works if the signal is strong and you’re close to the access point, and most IT teams won’t allow IoT devices to connect to their infrastructure for security reasons.
- Bluetooth: Bluetooth is a short range technology that is inexpensive and readily available, but it won’t work unless endpoints are used within the same room (or within a few dozen meters) of an access point. In an industrial IoT setting, Bluetooth works well if sensors are distributed nearly uniformly throughout an area (HVAC sensors, lights) but not so well for irregular deployments (power monitors, paper dispensers, industrial monitors). It is most useful when paired with another wireless technology.
- Mesh networks: Mesh topology is a type of networking where all nodes cooperatively distribute data. (Read more about mesh topologies here.) Mesh technologies like ZigBee and Z-Wave are robust and scalable, but they have longer network latency than other wireless technologies. With proper planning, mesh networks can be a good way to get wide-area, power efficient coverage, but they don’t always provide reliable connectivity.
- Cellular networks: Cellular networks exist in most (but not all) places, and they are managed by cellular network providers (taking the burden off you). That makes it an attractive option for IoT connectivity. LTE-M and NB-IoT are two cellular systems specifically designed for IoT devices. These energy-efficient technologies can transmit fairly large chunks of data, which would be good for things like tracking objects, energy management applications, and utility metering. At the moment, however, both are still years away from true global coverage, which is an important consideration if you hope to deploy your product in the near future.
- LPWAN technology: This technology, which includes LoRaWAN, Symphony Link, and Sigfox, among others, is ideal for connecting devices that send and receive small data packets over long distances while using very little power. However, LoRaWAN and Sigfox networks do not exist everywhere; there are also a number of other challenges associated with LoRaWAN and Sigfox that may make it unsuitable for private network solutions. Symphony Link addresses some of the shortcomings of LoRaWAN as it applies to industrial use cases; it is primarily used by industrial and enterprise customers who need reliability and advanced features in their LPWA systems.
While much of the talk around industrial IoT device connectivity focuses on wireless connections, wired systems are not uncommon. If your use case enables a wired connection, it could be a less expensive option; it will also usually be more reliable.
- INDUSTRIAL IOT PLATFORMS FOR DATA ANALYTICS
To complete your system you need industrial IoT software responsible for analyzing the collected and transmitted data. The software also makes decisions and, in some cases, pushes commands back to controls at the edge.
Often referred to as an industrial IoT platform, this supporting software connects the edge hardware, access points, and data networks to other parts of the value chain (which are generally end-user applications). They handle ongoing management tasks and data visualization. You can think of industrial IoT platforms as the middleman between the data collected at the edge and the user-facing SaaS or mobile application.