Industrial IoT Is More Than Devices
- By /
Sujata Tilak MD, Ascent Intellimation
23 Oct 2018
IIoT is a transformative digital evolution that is focused on the use of advanced analytics that helps in improving operational costs and reliability, increase production efficiency, and accelerate supply chain performance. It also helps in improving collaboration across sites, improves information and knowledge sharing between teams, enables better asset maintenance and fosters streamlined maintenance. Perhaps it is because of the unparalleled efficiencies that IIoT brings to the table, that this is expected to reach $232.15 billion by 2023.
The long and short of devices
The IIoT ecosystem is led by devices. Be it PLCs, controllers, sensors…the device ecosystem in the IIoT landscape is rich. The use of devices such as sensors that enable machine-to-machine communication allows industrial organizations to become more agile, ultra-responsive and flexible. The employment of cobots on the shop floor make it safer for humans and allow co-working of humans and robots. The cobots do the heavy lifting while their human counterparts can be productive elsewhere.
However, Industrial IoT is a great deal more than just devices. It is more about implementing the devices in a manner that they can deliver a tangible business impact. So, while devices are an important part of the IIoT journey, here’s a look at what organizations embarking on this journey must pay close attention to.
A thorough assessment of existing business processes
Before embarking on the IIoT journey, an organization first must take a close look at their existing business processes. This has to be done to identify and assess the business challenges that correspond with that process and gain insights into how IIoT could help mitigate those problems. For example, if industry workers are spending long hours firefighting maintenance issues or if machine breakdowns become common leading to increased downtime then it is apparent that these are areas that need improvement. If the supply chain is not operating efficiently and is impacting business outcomes, then that needs to be changed. This assessment helps in chalking out an IIoT roadmap and makes the implementation process smoother and more efficient.
Assessing the mix for IIoT implementation
Familiarization with common IIoT applications, such as preventive and predictive maintenance, energy consumption assistance, supply chain optimization, inventory planning, etc. is a good place to start. Along with this, organizations have to ensure that the end user is committed to using the data generated across this new network.
IIoT connects several devices to monitoring systems and sensors and generates and collects humongous volumes of data. It is the analysis and use of this data that unleashes efficiency and opportunity in the industry. Taking a phased approach to IIoT implementation, identifying areas which will benefit the most, and having the most willing user base are the things to be taken into consideration. Starting with small projects in key focus areas is more likely to deliver an impact than looking at a large-scale IIoT implementation rollout throughout the plant.
Evaluating the right partner and solution
A smart manufacturing solution has multiple touch points. Organizations moving in this direction have to take into consideration that connectivity in the manufacturing ecosystem is efficient. They have to ensure that configurations work seamlessly with old systems and machines and do not need new hardware. The solution also has to be scalable to match growth and that it can be customized easily to meet the evolving needs of the customer.
Choosing the right vendor to enable this assumes great importance. Manufacturers have to make sure that the vendor they choose not only understands the technology but also understands the manufacturing business and its nuances. The vendor needs to have a deep understanding of the processes, the devices, the technology implementation, and the people ecosystem. The vendor solution should solve the defined business problems. Vendors, thus, should be able to look at both, the business and the technology, from a single lens. Their capability to do so takes them from being mere vendors and turns them into partners who are contributors to the manufacturer’s growth story.
Developing the data framework
The real value from IIoT comes from centralizing the data and then integrating applications to process this information. Data consolidation is another aspect that has to be looked into closely. Data has to be consolidated from different sources using communication technologies and open integration to enable smart analytics and draw meaningful insights. To eliminate maintenance needs of these applications they are best deployed in the cloud instead of on-premises. This also facilitates in making data from multiple sites easily available in these applications
Focusing on the network
For successful IIoT systems, organizations need to ensure that they have a secure and stable network in place. There is a lot of data that is generated and flows within the IIoT ecosystem. The number of users on the network also increases. With an outdated network, the system cannot keep pace with the demands and can impede growth. It, thus, becomes imperative to focus on network segmentation and boundary protection and evaluate how the network should be set up to allow IIoT systems do their magic.
It is also important to have systems in place that analyze the networks and systems for potential vulnerabilities. Network security systems should be able to identify intrusions, breaches or leaks as or before they happen. They also have to have the capability to stop incidents and repair damages to the network or to system integrity promptly and ensure that security patches can be applied all network and security controls in the event of a vulnerability.
IT and OT convergence
Convergence of IT (Information Technology) and OT (Operations Technology) in IIoT systems enables secure and reliable data movement to applications and users beyond the shop floor. Thus, this aspect becomes fundamental to IIoT systems. While it might be simple to implement alarm monitoring, it can be significantly more challenging to discover ways to correlate information from different business systems with the plant floor. But it is this sort of convergence of IT and OT that will really unlock the value of IIoT systems.
Defining a clear roadmap
Having a clear roadmap for IIoT implementation will include several considerations such as the tools, connectivity network, services (cloud, device management, storage/database, event management, advanced analytics), applications (visualization, development environment, business system integration), application security, privacy management, E2E data encryption, firmware attestation etc. Along with these individual components, it is essential to build the IIoT technology in a modular fashion to allow scalability so that adding functionalities do not challenge the hardware design and data model.
Along with this, organizations also have to define the overall IIoT implementation strategy and then bring the right resources on board. Setting concrete goals and identifying high priority areas that have an immediate business impact should top the priority list.
Finally, it is crucial to ensure that security is not an afterthought. Creating IoT systems keeping global data and device security and following security best practices to detect security vulnerabilities proactively make the IIoT ecosystem robust and secure for use.