Learn about key characteristics of Internet of Things deployments in industrial environments.
The Internet of Things (IoT) is a term used to describe the practice of networking everyday objects to collect and analyze data in order to streamline and automate processes. But once you start designing specific IoT projects, you begin to realize that IoT benefits and challenges vary widely depending on your specific goals. If you're designing an IoT project for an industrial environment, the variations are starker.
Industrial IoT uses sensors to collect data in the hopes of speeding up processes, gain efficiencies, and ultimately, reduce overall costs for a product or service. In many ways, this is similar to other types of IoT, but there are a couple ways that industrial IoT deployments are distinctly different.
The first is in the fact that the physical environments for industrial-connected devices can vary widely from one implementation to the next. Plants, factories, mines and substations that have been operating for years likely weren't designed to accommodate sensitive pieces of sensor equipment required for IoT. That means installing of sensors in vary harsh conditions with less than ideal, HVAC, ventilation and power capabilities.
Next, while technology is indeed part of most industrial operations today, the hardware, software and protocols used are vastly different compared to what we're accustomed to on an enterprise or consumer-grade level. On the enterprise side, we commonly deal with protocols championed through the likes of the IEEE and ITU. Manufacturing protocols and platforms, however, are promoted by standards organizations such as the Manufacturing Enterprise Solutions Association (MESA) and International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC). As a result, one of the main challenges with industrial IoT has to do with communicating the data extracted from industrial systems that use their own unique application platforms and standards protocols to enterprise systems.
Read on to find out eight key things to consider before you begin an industrial IoT project.
Data collection and analysis
Although virtually all IoT projects involve the collection and analytics of big data, each industrial IoT deployment has unique characteristics. The types of data, collection methods, and analytics likely come from sensors and software deployed within highly complex and customized machinery. These sensors may be deployed at a local, regional or global scale. No matter how big or small, each IIoT deployment will be different in terms of the what, how, and why of data collection.
Some industrial IoT deployments may be easy in terms of physical environments. You may get lucky and have sensors implemented in fully climate controlled facilities. But in many situations, the places where sensors and other sensitive network equipment need to be deployed are areas with harsh environments, including high heat, extreme cold, high humidity, and poor ventilation. Clean power is also a major concern. In many situations, industrial IoT requires ruggedized IoT sensors and network hardware that can withstand these types of physical environment challenges.
One of the key differentiators between industrial IoT and other types of IoT is that much of the data collected for IIoT deals with automating quality control processes. Quality control is an important aspect for most types of industrial products, including raw materials, agriculture, and construction. But the type of quality-control data collected and collection methods are highly specific to that industry vertical.
Another driver for implementing industrial IoT is to discover and automate energy efficiencies in a wide variety of ways. This can involve the implementation and collection of smart sensor data in HVAC and lighting systems within manufacturing plants, implementing artificial intelligence into plant equipment to keep them running at optimal levels, and identifying areas that can be made more energy efficient by upgrading and modernizing specific parts of a plant. The possibilities here are virtually limitless.
Improved supply chain visibility
Prior to becoming CEO of Apple, Tim Cook was known as a manufacturing supply chain guru. No matter what industry you work in, improving on supply chain processes can be of critical importance. But identifying areas of the supply chain that can be improved is easier said than done. Many supply chain processes are computerized, but have built-in digitized silos. This leads to supply chain blind spots and ultimately higher costs. Many industrial IoT projects are designed to provide end-to-end supply chain visibility.
In many cases, an industrial IoT project will involve retrofitting industrial equipment with IoT sensors. These will include things such as manufacturing equipment, forklifts, and storage containers. While a few IIoT projects may be greenfield installations with brand new equipment, most will require updating legacy processes and tools to bring them into the world of IoT.
Industrial-specific applications and protocols
If you’ve never been involved with industrial IT, you may never have heard of protocols such as OPC, MQTT DDS or AMQP. Nor would you have dealt with applications based on SCADA and MES platforms. All of these – and many more – are common applications and protocols used in the industrial IT world. The challenge, therefore, will be to connect these industrial devices and platforms to applications and data storage mechanisms that are on the enterprise side of the business.
Merging industrial IT and enterprise IT
While industrial IT has been around for quite some time, in many cases, the “plant” side of the IT house works independently from the “corporate” side of the house. For example, if manufacturing equipment is network connected, the network may have originally been built as a closed system that never touched the corporate network. But with industrial IoT, these two groups must work together as a single unit. This can prove difficult because processes, technologies and security mechanisms differ between the two groups. Fortunately, groups such as the Industrial Internet Consortium (IIC) are developing frameworks to help bridge that gap.