Industrial IoT the newest hotbed for edge device innovation

As IoT devices saturate the home market, the latest hotbed for edge device innovation is the often overlooked world of industrial IoT (IIOT).

The Industrial Internet of Things  is a prime sector for growth in 2017 and beyond. Right now, the manufacturing and industrial services verticals are deploying connected devices in many areas of operation. As the trend continues, organizations that continue to rely on legacy technology are likely to feel pressure from competitors who outpace them in efficiency, revenue, market share, and innovation.

Startups and smaller companies may be agile in their approach to implementing IoT. However, big business is at no disadvantage, embracing the Industrial IoT (IIoT) trend, making the most of existing assets by adding expanded capabilities. According to Steve Ball, Senior Director of Product Management at Senet, "Large companies already have solutions and are trying to expand and capture new opportunities with IoT."

Who benefits from Industrial IoT?

Kevin Saye, Microsoft Technical IoT Specialist, indicated there's really no sector off limits right now for IoT. "It's all over the place, and could be focused on solving a problem or creating a new business opportunity. Businesses might use it to predict maintenance of a fleet whether cars, planes, trucks, or oil & gas lines with streaming data from devices."

Industrial, manufacturing, and distribution are key areas for innovation for a few reasons.

  • The assets involved, such as equipment and machinery, are expensive and mission critical. Repair and replacement are costly and should be avoided if possible.
  • Processes are complex with many moving parts and both mechanical and electronic components as well as environmental factors playing a role in effective production and distribution.
  • Failure at any point causes a cascade of effects from downtime to lost productivity and revenue, failure to meet obligations to customers and partners, etc.
  • Many of the factors being monitored can be linked directly to operational efficiency and revenue generation, making it easier to justify IoT implementation based on trackable ROI.

What challenges can lead to lack of successful implementation?

Avoiding pitfalls begins with asking the right questions when a company starts the process of architecting an IIoT solution. Azure Data Solution Architect Ranga Vadlamudi pointed out that there must be a clear link between the proposed implementation and a business benefit. "First of all, what is the value proposition in deploying the solution? What is the gain? ROI is not just in dollars but in improving operations and service. For example, you might deploy IoT to predict something happening such as a machine at the verge of failing. If you only know after the failure, you end up losing productivity. With sensor data and analytics, you can predict failure and do scheduled maintenance to avoid downtime."

Here are a few of the issues businesses may encounter when they shift their focus to IoT and IIoT:

  • A tendency towards overenthusiasm. Businesses may want to dramatically oversample data, making IoT and Industrial IoT more expensive than it needs to be.
  • Uncertainty about what to do with the data once it is collected. Proper use of analytics and business intelligence is required for effective IoT.
  • Resistance to change. Many industrial companies have been doing things the same way for many decades. An investment in new technology and infrastructure may be seen as an unwelcome expense.
  • Internal conflict over cloud services. IoT necessitates the use of cloud resources. IT decision-makers may be reluctant to shift away from a CapEx model due to concern over controls and cost overruns.

IoT innovators set their sights on industrial IoT

Some Industrial IoT for manufacturing may start at the small end of the scale and work its way up once the solutions are proven. In January of 2017, Collide Village hosted an IoT hackathon in North Texas. The focus was on several emerging areas including smart city, connected cars, and blockchain. Industry was also addressed. The choice to tackle large scale problems was deliberate. According to Collide Village CEO Tahir Hussain, "At our hackathon, we did not want to tackle consumer and enterprise at the same time. There is a lot of hype in the consumer space about things like smart homes. But Gartner is showing consumer IoT at the top of the hype curve. Enterprise and Industrial IoT are next in line, with more commercial applications being developed."

Several teams at the hackathon gave special attention to the manufacturing sector. Participant Yvonne Salazar offered an idea for how to retrofit existing factory infrastructure to take data from the local level and make it available for deeper analytics by upgrading with IoT components. "There are many manufacturing plants around the world that are using wireline monitoring solutions to keep their factories going. They are used to that—and why should they strip out all this infrastructure? Maybe they don't have the money or can't make a decent profit margin if they do. We are going to give them the opportunity to tap into the Internet of Things with our special design."

Josh Grob, another attendee, brought a global perspective to the problem. "During my travels in China, I found many old factories and old machines that you couldn't monitor for quality and reliability. IoT can give visibility into tool life and downtime. Our team developed custom boards that can quickly and easily be added to get data out and do some processing to improve operations."

With enterprises and brand new startups both eyeing more solutions in this vertical, the next few years will yield much experimentation, lessons learned, and progress toward greater efficiency through industrial IoT.

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